It’s not hard to garner at least some enthusiasm from some quarter of our community whenever you want to discuss putting a new Fast Ferry in operation, or a casino on Main St., or a refilled canal to replace Broad St. Neato ideas and boffo enthusiasm can always be found in things we see in other cities and like. I’m still enamoured with Ra-Cha-Rant‘s idea of LED-lit buildings downtown. There is, after all, a certain melancholy pride in this city just waiting for a reason to believe in our potential to do great things and be a great community.
But the Fast Ferry is dead, the RenCenter is shrinking like nad sac in the snow and it now seems as though the city’s great minor-league sports teams are in dire shape. Might it not be time for us to start thinking about the “Great Unsexy” of municipal governance? Rather than seeking out the next inspirational project that will raise the profile of one corner of our city, might we not want to focus on those necessary things that make our city intrinsically more valuable?
Imagine the improvement if instead of throwing money after every new ass-brained idea that comes down the pike, we concentrated on keeping our streets – all of them, not just East Avenue – clean and well-maintained. Imagine the improvement to local businesses if the sidewalks around town were reliably free of snow in the winter and garbage in the summer and allowed regular foot traffic as they’re designed to do. Instead of chasing down investors for a casino downtown, it might be better to have a flower pot next to every tree on the streets through downtown.
Despite what many would have you think, when businesses are asked what features of a city most attract them to new investment, the answer isn’t lower taxes or a conveniently-located Italian-themed marketplace. The answer is routinely some combination of an educated workforce and reliable infrastructure, which means well-maintained roads and communications lines. Funny thing: not only are these things good for business, but they’re good for the citizenry as well. And who could complain if we spent our time, talent and treasure building livable communities and good jobs?
I will say that, in my neighborhood at least, the maintenance of the streets has improved somewhat this year. And while nothing is perfect, the Zero Tolerance program has proved – quite predictably – that the simple increase in police presence in our streets helps abate violent crime by a significant margin. So, let’s all put our effort into convincing the Duffy Administration to keep up the good work they’ve done in these areas and eschew the next “monorail-esque” project the contracting community pitches them.