Why, Indeed

Blabberon has a great post up on Walking Fort Bragg, talking about the general state of decay of things downtown, complete with illustrative photos. Almost immediately after I read that post, I read that the Pudding Creek Trestle was apparently vandalized; if it’s sunny tomorrow, I may go and check it out. I was pretty dismayed to hear about the vandalism, given that a lot of people worked hard to get the trestle repaired and usable, and abuse like that is a great way to get it shut down. It’s not even nice graffiti, either.

Blabberon raises an important point, which is that we don’t take very good care of our city. Long-time residents may remember the period when the city installed a bunch of trees in giant terracotta pots and then ignored them, and people seemed surprised by the fact that the pots ended up holding garbage and cigarette butts while the trees died. The city seems to be fond of investing a bunch of money in something and then not maintaining it, which makes no sense from all sorts of aspects.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the context of the alleys. Fort Bragg, for those of you who don’t live here, has a lot of alleys. The alleys are really part of the culture of the town, and since I’ve lived on a few, I have a fair amount of alley experience. And let me tell you, there’s no alley pride. People just pile up garbage and unwanted crap in the alleys because they think that no one will care, and it makes me sad.

an abandoned bicycle

Sights like the above are far from uncommon, and while it might look pictaresque and arty here, it’s depressing in real life. The alleys are filled with schlock and garbage, starving sick cats, and a quiet sense of misery. I think that the alleys should be like our little secret, filled with gardens and quiet rebellion, and I’ve tried to institute this in my own alley, but I was thwarted by the people in the front house, who dumped a big pile of garbage on the flowers I planted. It’s been sitting there for months, despite my pleas to the landlord to take it away. If I had a car, I’d do it myself, but I am pretty much powerless here.

I think that the condition of the alleys reflects a general lack of civic pride. Everyone’s all fired up about the downtown improvement, but there’s a lot of deferred maintenance going on, even downtown. All of those people were sure excited about the fake wood sidewalks, but they don’t care that the trees they planted are dying, or that graffiti covers a remarkable percentage of our buildings.

I’m not really sure what to do about this. I am fundamentally lazy, even when I want to make a difference. So I’d like to say that we should start an organization dedicated to upkeep and general happiness, but I know I lack the motivation to do it on my own. If someone else wants to band together with me, however, perhaps we can drum up public interest. I also think that the city needs to take some responsibility here. Why not put our disgustingly large homeless population here to work on downtown maintenance? Or start fining landlords when garbage piles up behind their houses?

My objection isn’t that it makes the town unfriendly to tourists. If I thought the condition of the alleys deterred tourism, I’d be out there slinging rotting mattresses and mouldering porno magazines with the best of them. My objection is that it makes the people in the alleys feel like we don’t matter. Given that a lot of low-income people live in the alleys, it seems to send a subtle message that the city doesn’t care about its lower classes, and this message is only reinforced by the lack of social services, sympathy, and help for people who can’t afford to live here but struggle to do so anyway.

Let’s not clean the alleys for them. Let’s clean the alleys for us.