Justice means different things to different people. Some focus on rules. Some look to results. Some even try to equate justice with ethics, although that may well lead down its own definitional rabbit hole. And it is probably true that what justice means may well depend on the context of the discussion. Are we talking social justice, economic justice, justice under the law, some other kind of justice?
I have been mulling about this because I was recently involved in a community wide exercise that, on reflection, turned out to be largely about justice. It did not start that way. What twenty-one of us were charged with doing was reviewing over two thousand ideas submitted by Evanstonians in an effort to develop ten big ideas for the improvement of our city. We were to act as jurors, evaluating the ideas, and then selecting the one hundred best for a community vote. We were then to take the thirty ideas receiving the most votes of the community and, with the other ideas in mind too, craft ten ideas for implementation in Evanston by 2013, the 150th anniversary of Evanston’s founding.
We did not talk a lot about Justice (or justice for that matter), but many of the ideas we developed, in retrospect, seem to address at least one aspect of just community, and that is the extent to which everyone should have a decent opportunity to participate in life’s game. We have urged the provision of affordable preschool for all, so that each child is prepared for kindergarten. We seek a youth center to encourage leadership development and appropriate experiences for growth. We would create a vocational co-op technical school as an alternative to college and a venue for job retraining. We want to establish fully functional neighborhood literacy centers in geographically diverse areas of Evanston to provide not only conventional library services but focus on teaching technology skills. We hope to develop a community health center for those who need it.
Imagine a place where all children learn before kindergarten, where teens have a safe haven and can learn leadership skills, where high-school graduates and adults can acquire skills in a trade that can provide a decent and honorable livelihood, where literacy is valued and modern technology is available for all, and where those in need can receive basic wellness treatment. That is a place worth trying to build, because it would be a community where impediments to individual growth are removed and each person has a chance to develop his or her talents.
Some have criticized our ten ideas because they do not know how they would be financed, and the economic challenges are real. But the critics do not deny the intrinsic value of the goals. So now, the question becomes one of creativity and will. If you are interested in helping to bring these ideas to fruition, to build this more just community, or if you want to know more about these or the other ideas we developed -- for instance, with respect to urban farms and community gardens, energy efficiency and conservation, water recreation, a year round farmers and artisans market, and bike lanes and walking paths -- you can access general and contact information at http://www.evanston150.org/ or just call 847-347-2013.