Fresno’s divide is not a new concept.
Former Mayor Alan Autry famously dubbed the issue Fresno’s “Tale of Two Cities.”
Since its birth, Fresno, like cities across the nation, was divided racially and economically along the railroad tracks. Redlining happened here, too, during the Great Depression. And in the 1970s, northward sprawl moved the city’s dividing line to Shaw Avenue.
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The city’s most high-profile political battles often pit north and south Fresno against one another, as was the case in 2008 when Ashley Swearengin and Henry T. Perea competed to be mayor and again in 2016 when Lee Brand beat out the elder Henry R. Perea.
The divide continues to influence today’s politics as city leaders focus on revitalizing downtown and try to persuade folks from affluent northern neighborhoods to venture downtown. A number of environmental justice lawsuits allege the city is at fault for approving projects that will further pollute impoverished areas mostly in southwest Fresno.
The Fresno Bee is starting a conversation about this and wants you to be a part of it. As the city hall reporter and a San Joaquin Valley native, I’m taking on this challenge because I care about my home and the people who live here.
Earlier this year, The Bee entered into a transparency project with Arizona State University’s News Co/Lab. Through that initiative, we’re partnering with Spaceship Media, a San Francisco Bay Area journalism organization that developed a “dialogue journalism” method to reduce polarization, build communities and restore trust in media.
My goal through this project is to help people from different parts of the city understand each other better. I hope this dialogue also builds trust in the journalistic process.
Here’s where you come in. Would you like to be part of a month-long moderated, respectful conversation with your neighbors on the other side of Shaw Avenue?
I’m looking for a broad group of people from neighborhoods both north and south of Shaw to contribute questions every week. Articles like this one also will include polls throughout the project. I’ll also put together two small focus groups from north and south of Shaw to participate in an ongoing conversation over about four weeks. The plan is to talk about public safety, education and financial security, among other topics. Participants will steer the conversation, too.
If you’d like to join this conversation, please answer a few questions here. Our aim is to make sure the conversation includes an inclusive and diverse representation of the north and south Fresno communities. There are a limited number of spaces, but everyone who fills out a survey will be kept up to date about the project and have the chance to contribute questions and input.
This conversation will be an opportunity to ask questions and explore what you want to know about people on the “other side” of the line, share what you want them to know about you, find out more about what separates you, and learn what you might have in common.
I will be the facilitator in this conversation, helping you ask questions about others in the community and helping to answer questions about your neighbors across the line that divides you.
The conversation will culminate in a forum in late October.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks to see where the conversation goes and learn more about people living on the other side of town.