A bunch of dogs in Halloween costumes reminded me that communities are always in motion. I was on my way to get a haircut last weekend when...

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A bunch of dogs in Halloween costumes reminded me that communities are always in motion.

I was on my way to get a haircut last weekend when I had to pause for a moment to let some scary animals cross South Genesee Street. The section of Genesee Park south of the street was crowded with people and costumed canines on leashes.

That area of the park has a 2.5-acre off-leash area, and beyond that are soccer fields that tend to be active night and day. I wouldn’t have imagined any of that just a few years ago.

Genesee Park has been a wetland, a garbage dump and a rough field whose major use was as parking for Seafair crowds.

When I came to the neighborhood, it was just a field. It seemed as if that was what it would always be, but even then there were people who had visions of what it might become. That has been true at every stage of its existence, and at every stage different visions competed before one won out.

Communities are constantly changing, and someone shapes that change. There’s the usual mix of politicians, business owners, activists, interest groups, but most folks just watch things unfold, unless something touches too close to home.

There’s an election Tuesday, but voting isn’t the only way to participate in the world’s leading democracy.

I went to a community meeting in my neighborhood recently. Have you been to a community meeting lately? This meeting was about a community renewal plan for Rainier Valley, but it could have been about any community proposal.

City officials on stage explained the idea. Neighborhoods in Rainier Valley are changing rapidly, and the transformation is being sped up by the light rail line being built along Martin Luther King Way.

Gentrification has been an issue in all of this. Is it possible to have better stores, safer streets, better transportation, nicer housing and still have room for low-income people?

The city was asking people for their opinion of its plan for shaping growth. One idea was to declare Rainier Valley a blighted area, which would qualify it for low-cost financing of mixed-use development.

A community renewal agency would have the power of eminent domain, which means it could condemn property, pay the market rate for it and assemble parcels for development that it felt would benefit the area most and preserve a place for low-income people.

Left to the private market, development would, of course, chase the highest return.

Most people listened. But a few people shouted out their fears. One guy in particular took every opportunity to scream at the folks on stage. I hate it when people think their opinion is so important it takes precedence over everyone else’s needs.

Some in the audience got impatient with the interrupters and yelled back, asking them to be quiet so the rest of us could hear what the people had to say. (It’s not just school-board meetings that get rowdy.)

There was a process in place for sharing ideas. There were even forms for people to write down their input. At one point people had a chance to go to a microphone and ask questions. The really loud guy said his family owned a business and went on about how the city was hurting his operation.

Mostly he complained about his taxes. The meeting wasn’t about his taxes, but that’s what he wanted to talk about and he didn’t care what the rest of us were there for.

There were other people there who didn’t seem to understand how eminent domain works or how likely the city would be to use it. The people on stage tried to explain, but not everyone was willing to trust their word.

I found myself thinking less about the merits of various development ideas and more about the contentiousness and mistrust.

I thought about another meeting, one held at the UW where former Mayor Norm Rice is leading a project at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs to find a path to civil civic engagement and a cure for the apathy that many people feel.

Let’s hope he succeeds. We don’t want democracy going to the dogs.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.