Building on the model of a similar program that we created in Red Hook, Brooklyn a couple of years ago, the Near Westside project seeks to resolve conflicts by adapting a Native American tradition to local problems. Local volunteers are trained to serve as "peacemakers" by Native American practitioners. The basic idea is to take a restorative justice approach to conflict, bringing together affected parties for multiple conversations that will hopefully yield a consensus about how to address the problem and move forward. Peacemaking is a particularly good fit for messy problems involving multiple participants who must continue to interact on an ongoing basis.
Our hope is that the peacemaking project, which will handle referrals from the justice system, schools and neighborhood groups, will play a role in the continued revitalization of the Near Westside neighborhood, which has struggled with crime and poverty for many years. The project is located in the heart of the community at 601 Tully Street, at an intersection that also features a school, a park and a church.
The peacemaking project has already successfully resolved one complicated dispute involving local school children and their families. Another three conflicts are in the process of being addressed. Also encouraging is the amount of good will the program has engendered in the community. Dozens of local residents came out to celebrate the launch of the program, including many of the volunteer peacemakers. Also on hand were the chief of police and representatives from the local housing authority, district attorney's office, and parole department. It was a visible reminder of one of my favorite qualities of the Center for Court Innovation: when we are at our best, we are capable of serving as an interstitial link between government and the communities that government needs to do a better job of serving.
Speaking of links, it has been awhile since I unburdened myself of my opinions on a range of cultural topics. Here are some quick takes:
The Engineer's Lament -- I think this is the best piece that Malcolm Gladwell has written for The New Yorker in some time. I particularly liked his emphasis on the role our professional training plays in explaining our perspectives of the world. (My lack of graduate education has certainly helped shape how I think.)
Montage of Heck -- While I didn't love HBO's overstuffed Kurt Cobain documentary, it did encourage me to play my Nirvana CDs for the first time in awhile. I think I may be coming to the conclusion that Kurt Cobain was overrated but Nirvana was underrated, if that makes any sense.
The Memory Chalet -- I was initially tipped off to Nirvana in the early '90s by my friend John, whose tastes don't always overlap with mine, but whose recommendations I always take seriously. As it happens, I am currently reading a book that John gave me: The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt. The book collects some of the final writings by historian Tony Judt, who remained a productive writer till the end of his life despite contracting Lou Gehrig's disease. It is the first book I've read by Judt, who I now add to the long list of authors who I wish I could write as well as.
Bill Simmons/ESPN Kerfuffle -- I'm a big believer in the importance of building small pleasures into one's daily routine. The end of the Colbert Report was a big loss for me on this front -- I found the show's absurd humor helped sustain me. This week has brought more bad news with the abrupt departure of Bill Simmons from Grantland and ESPN. Simmons' columns and podcasts were something I looked forward to on a weekly basis. If it is true, as rumored, that his departure was driven by ESPN's concerns about his criticisms of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, it is yet another reason for me to loathe the league.