Garden District neighborhood addresses problems, embraces diversity

2013-09-08T00:00:00Z Garden District neighborhood addresses problems, embraces diversityBy Kristine Yarter Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I was pleased to see the front page article featuring John B. Wright Elementary School where I sent my sons in the ’80s. Inspiring, dedicated teachers have always worked at Wright, and it is great when they can get some extra help.

Principal Maria Marin and Kathleen Perkins have been instrumental in turning Wright into a STEM school, and as a retired biology teacher I applaud their efforts to encourage future scientists.

I was disappointed about some of the remarks concerning the Garden District Neighborhood in the Aug. 11 piece, which was part of the series “Losing Ground: Tucson kids pay poverty’s high price.” Many of my neighbors and I felt the article did not accurately describe where we live.

Our neighborhood does have its problems. We are living in an older part of Tucson, among some nicely kept homes built from the 1930s to the ’60s. During the late ’70s and early ’80s our empty dirt lots were built up with mismatched duplexes, townhouses and apartments in the name of “infill.” Many of these rentals offer Section 8 housing, but are often owned by absentee landlords who do not put anything back into our community.

Renters outnumber the homeowners, and we try to get them involved. Affordable housing and our central, walkable location with easy bus access brought a greater number of refugees and immigrants into Tucson’s midtown neighborhoods. This has a big impact on the nearby cash-strapped public schools, including John B. Wright and Catalina Magnet High School. At Wright, teachers are challenged with educating students who speak more than 21 languages, and move quietly into and out of the system.

My neighbors and I celebrate our cultural and economic diversity. It is a part of what makes Garden District a unique and vibrant place to live.

Our “Welcome to the Neighborhood” letter starts out by saying, “You have just moved into the Garden District Neighborhood. Our boundaries are Swan to Alvernon and Speedway to Grant. The Tucson Botanical Gardens, John B. Wright Elementary, and Martha Cooper Library are gems of our neighborhood. Folks in our neighborhood work hard to bring our vision statement to life: “A safe neighborhood in the heart of Tucson where a diverse and engaged community cultivates a beautiful environment within easy access to urban services.”

The leaders and members of the Garden District Neighborhood Association (not a HOA) have written grants and proposals for sidewalks on Columbus Boulevard; a safe walking and biking parkway to be constructed in 2014 along Pima Street between Alvernon Way and Columbus; and most importantly, the building of the Martha Cooper Library, named after our first neighborhood association president.

We have planted hundreds of trees and have monthly potlucks at our bountiful GD2 community garden. We clean up and report graffiti and code violations, arrange for roll-off dumpsters from the city twice a year, set up neighborhood watches and celebrate the “Little Free Library.”

Members have recently installed two communication kiosks for our residents who cannot get the e-newsletter that goes out to more than 650 people. In addition, we have several supportive and generous neighborhood businesses and a close working relationship with Councilman Steve Kozachik at Ward 6. We meet with other neighborhood associations to work on our similar problems and monthly with TPD officers who are part of the Alvernon-Grant Initiative to report and stop criminal activity.

We need to celebrate the positive, encourage communities to work together with government, and solve the problems that are the products of poverty, endemic in cities everywhere.

Kristine Yarter is a retired TUSD science teacher and resident of the Garden District for 41 years.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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