“Know Your Neighbor” Returns — And What a Neighbor!

Last night Jim Giese, shared with us both his life story and that of Greenbelt, MD, the city of which he was city manager for 28 years, retiring in 1991. He called his presentation “Managing Utopia.”

Jim started with a description of Greenbelt that made it sound a lot like Collington, told Greenebelt’s and his and Bernie’s stories, including how and why he became interested in the role of professional city manager, and concluded by showing a number of fascinating pictures from the not always smooth history of the city.

There are lots of takeaways, including the value of community, the importance of the “garden city” concept, reflected very much in our own walk-friendly community-building design, how far we have come (Greenbelt was set up as a model city, but was whites-only), and how much work it takes to maintain community in the face of disagreements.  How Jim managed to navigate those challenges is something I would love to hear more of.

Among the stories he told were of the apparently uneventful desegregation of the swimming pool, Greenbelt’s participation in the 1968 Poor People’s March, and his long term and successful effort to professionalize the police department, a department that seems as a result to have avoided the problems that have plagued so many. Of course, the whole idea of professional, rather than political, city management, and how that management relates to the politically elected individuals who are ultimately responsible for a community, is fascinating, and may be helpful to us as, at a very general level, as we think through institutional roles here.

Concluding thoughts.  Between Jim, and Bill Conklin, who designed Reston, and maybe other folk too, we have a range of perspectives on intentional urban community design and management.  Maybe we should do a panel or seminar bringing these perspectives and memories together.

Very much in my mind, too, is just a little sense of the richness of the lives that Jim and his beloved Bernie built and shared.  We are reminded of the huge value of the “Know Your Neighbor” series, and of the amazing human resources and stories that make up our community.

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