Accent on New Paltz: The people in our neighborhood

paul brown SQIt has been said that ‘all politics is local’. Surely the corollary to that is that all localities are made up of neighborhoods. In what my grandchildren refer to as ‘the olden days’, we pretty much knew our neighborhoods by the names of the roads and streets where people lived. We understood that how they thought and felt about things was often related to where their homes were located.

In these ‘modern times’ our neighborhoods of common thoughts and feelings also seem to include various subcultures and groups of people bound together as much by a common shared philosophy and set of beliefs as they are by where they live. In New Paltz we often refer to these groups using the term ‘people’, as in “the sidewalk people” or “the bike-ped people.” The more we know about these groups, the more interesting our diverse community becomes. For example, what do the “Women in Black” believe? How can you join them? What motivates them to stand out in the harshest weather to call attention to causes they passionately support? I plan to learn more about this group in the coming year.

My list of neighborhood groups in New Paltz is certainly not exhaustive, however, it includes: “the pro-environment people,” who should not be confused with “the anti-development people,” although a few of the latter do try to infiltrate the former. The term “the village people” reminds me of my old Brooklyn neighborhood, where people were defined by where they lived. I happen to reside outside the boundaries of the Village of New Paltz; however I do not hear much about “the town people.” Last year a few politicians tried to create a “town outside the village” group, but few residents seemed to care for that appellation.


Two recently identified groups that gained prominence last year were “the Woodland Pond people” and “the Waring Lane people.” I wish them well in resolving their differences this year. To me they really are members of the same neighborhood, but that’s just my opinion.

Two groups that deserve better press and more study are “the students” and “the landlords.” It seems absurd to me to think of the members of either of these groups as being some sort of monolithic subculture of New Paltz. People in our community who happen to be taking courses at the college or who happen to own a rental property belong to groups as diverse as any other. Learning more about our ‘neighborhoods’ is one of my personal goals for 2014.


A matter of frequency

The communication skills of our elected officials have a great deal to do with the efficiency and effectiveness of governmental meetings. As we observe their discussions, either by attending a meeting or watching them on Local Access or YouTube, we most often focus on the content of the discussion. From time to time, however, it can be revealing to also pay attention to the frequency of certain verbal interactions. For example, the frequency with which a person asks clarifying questions to improve their understanding of another’s point of view has been shown by over 50 years of research to enhance the effectiveness of conversation and shorten the duration of meetings. Interrupting and talking over others, on the other hand, has been shown to be one of the most destructive verbal interactions. Interruptions often anger the person speaking and can distract the listeners who are trying to focus on what the speaker is attempting to communicate.

The New Paltz town and village joint meeting of Jan. 22 provided an opportunity to observe the communication skills of the nine officials present. During a 32-minute discussion of how the town and village will deal in the future with requests for permission to hold parades down Main Street, four questions were asked, and all appeared to be sincere attempts to gather information and gain understanding of the points of view of the other board members present. Four people did most of the talking, during which there were 44 instances of interrupting. That’s an average of 1.4 interruptions per minute. A single person was responsible for 27 of the 44 interruptions.

It may not surprise you to learn that the discussion ended with no action, the group concluding that it was unable to reach a decision at that time. Perhaps fewer interruptions at the next meeting will result in a more productive outcome.