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Talking Headways Podcast: Do It for the Neighborhood Part II

It's the second part of our conversation about community input and how officials respond to unforeseen outcomes.

This week, we’re listening in to part two of a conversation between David Longoria of LISC in Phoenix and Ryan Winkle of RAIL CDC as they discuss the community work they are doing in Mesa along the light rail line and how they respond to unforeseen outcomes.

If you don't want to listen, why not read the partially edited transcript below. Or click here for the full unedited conversation.

David Longoria: And how does RAIL connect with folks or make that connection between folks? What is it like and, and where do you fit in? Because you talked about this immense responsibility that you have and this feeling of almost guilt, if you will, in some of the repercussions or some of the effects that happened. So what did you take from it and what are you doing now that maybe you didn’t take into account before?

Ryan Winkle: This goes back to the pandemic. The great thing about the pandemic — and I’m sure a lot of people don’t talk about some positives of this time — was the fact that it finally showed the weaknesses that the services already have. That there was always a problem, but it just wasn’t so obvious, right? And so when the pandemic happened, everyone’s like, "Wow, this has always been a problem, but now we really need to address it because we have to. You know and there’s the federal funding coming down and it’s just going places and we gotta do something in reigniting what we’re up to." We had started questioning our own models, right? And so we really brought much more of an equity lens into it.

And so when we were kind of gearing up during the pandemic for a lot of the small business work that we’re already doing, but started thinking about bigger targets, right? We decided finally to grow up a little bit and get an executive director, right? This is right before kind of the pandemic time and really get some grants for some real small business. And it was a different time, a different place. Light rail had long passed, businesses have been changing hands a little bit. And now while the Downtown was kind of a little bit on its own. The Southside neighborhoods were starting to really feel the effect of the investment from the Downtown area.

So pandemic came, we had a new director, we had some grants, the city and everyone else, and everyone and their mother was putting resources into like central areas, right? In downtowns, right? And we had thought, "Man, like we could continue our work here or we could take our amount that we have and really push it to someone who needs it more." Like, "Downtown’s cool, they got 20 people trying to do stuff with ’em, they’re fine." And so we started thinking about the Latino businesses, the Spanish speaking businesses and how they were accessing these services. So just like back when the light rail was starting and people didn’t know how to get these services and we were the connector piece walking around the pollinator, walking into businesses saying things.

But this time, we took a much bigger role in actually like going to the developers in the city and saying like, "We want something better." And then they’re like, "Yeah, well who cares? So does everybody. What do you guys say about that?" We’re like, "Well we got all these people now and all this neighborhood right here, they want better, too." They forgot the voters. You know, when the voters want something, it’s a little bit different, right?

And so I remember the mayor always told us, "Listen, I wanna present these ideas, but there are neighborhoods that will fight that idea to the death, right? And they have much bigger spending power and all these different things than than your little group over here. So what I need you to do is get the neighborhood together, have ’em come as a group, and then if you push from the bottom, I’ll push in the top and we can squeeze the middle and they have to do something, right." It’s a, it’s a friction game.

And so we really started really focusing on how do we really empower the people to come and actually be active on top ... and take the blow so that the neighborhood could like get the benefit. A good example of that would be when, when all the CARES Act money came out and stuff like that and, and the cities were flooded with it. So like, let’s just get it out. We only have a short amount of time.

And so we saw it going out to a lot of businesses that already knew how to interact with the city. I already knew how to fill out some paperwork. And some of those were the business we’ve been working with forever on Main. But then there wasn’t a Spanish version, so what really was the likelihood that you understood all these small print things meant that when you got this money or whatever or how to get the money? So during this time of Covid, we were the only psychos that were setting up some tables, some computers and being face to face (of course with masks).

But to get this money into these small businesses, when that happened, we worked with LISC, which had brokered a deal with the city of Mesa to let us kind of help you do this and track it. The city of Mesa was like, "Oh my God, Thank you. Yes, please do it because this is crazy. It’s federal money." It was all in the west side of Mesa. A ton of them were Spanish-speaking businesses all in the exact areas that we worked. Right?

Ryan Winkle: Coincidence? I think not. We were targeting that, right? It took a very systematic mental approach to say we’re not trying to be swooping in as white saviors here. We’re trying to swoop in in a place that has said, "We need help and nobody’s helping us. How, how do we do it?"

David Longoria: So I think it goes without saying that so much of RAIL’s success and what RAIL does differently is behind the fact that it takes time to build trust with folks and it extracts, it extracts that trust as we, as we talked about last time. And we’re in this right, as we also mentioned for the long game, you unveil it and you support it. And, and these things sort of cascade, right? It has this effect of sort of rippling out from these small interventions that occur within these communities. And you’ve also alluded to the fact that folks have the right to be involved, right? But it’s also a responsibility or an obligation.

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