Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Afternoon Rant

Article in the Trib pissed me off, surprisingly enough, not because of the story or the reporting, as is the norm, but rather what was said by the interviewees about downtown Pittsburgh.

"They have to make it easier for people to come and park," said Reggie Cox, manager of Sneaker Villa on Wood Street. "They're real good at towing cars around here, but maybe they ought to make the meters last longer than seven minutes for a quarter."...

"Downtown is dirty," he [Calvin Moore, manager of EZ Records] said. "If they just planted some trees and flowers, it would make a big difference and maybe get people more interested to take their time and shop a little."...

"I think waiting for the big, sweeping change there may have slowed things down," he [Rich LoPresti manager of Lubin and Smalley] said. "If, five years ago, they had tried to develop it block by block, well at least they would have been doing something. They want big picture kinds of things to happen, but something happening is better than nothing happening."
Do you see a common pattern in their answers? Please, Calvin, Reggie, Rich, tell me, who are "They*"?

Which They is supposed to come in and fix what's wrong downtown? Where do They live? Do They have family? Where is this mystical organization out there with access to billions of dollars who can wave Their checkbook and solve all of our problems. Does They wear brown robes and recite ancient incantations to the Dark Lords of Economic Development while sacrificing virgins? Is They omnipresent, ever lurking the shadows, leaping out to right wrongs and dispense justice? Who ARE They and how do I get THEM to pay off my credit card bills?

But it's not just downtown. In my travels and travails through the region, more often then not I hear "They should do this" or "The Government should do that" or "The City should do the other thing." It spans all types of issues and isn't just limited to certain projects, ideas, or areas. I've heard it in Crafton, I've heard it in East Liberty, I've heard it in Braddock. I've heard it about Bike Trails, about Riverfront development, about art, about race relations, etc. It worries and upsets me that some people believe that there is an all powerful "They" out there with the magical powers to cure problems. It depresses me further that us Western Pennsylvanians seem to have a mentality that someone else (usually the government) is supposed to fix our problems for us.

An anecdote (probably apocryphal) told to me by a coworker, tells of a time she was talking with some executive at Freemarkets who complained that They were not providing enough night life downtown. Her response was, "Listen asshole: get your beer drinking, dot-com buddies together and build your own damned night life! You have time and money! Fix it yourself! Don't expect Them to provide it for you.

They are good at policing the streets, putting out fires, dispensing justice, picking up trash, building your roads, destroying your roads, maintaining your roads, building sewers, remediating brownfields, accessing funds, providing funds, holding property, planting trees, and providing other services not easily done by the private market. They are not here to do things for You. They are not Your panacea to fix every thing that is wrong; They're from the government, and They're here to HELP.

Stop laughing. I mean it.

The Government is not here to drive these deals; the government, as Fester & I have alluded to, is here to assist in these deals. In areas that are traditionally the perview of the private market, Government cannot make bad deals work; government can only make marginal deals work.

If you are complaining about why THEY aren't doing anything, why don't YOU ask why YOU'RE not doing anything? Have we lost the ability to do anything by ourselves without relying on Them to do it for us? Self determination? Community activism? Getting up off your lazy, whiney asses? No? Nothing? Not a bit? Hello? Is this thing on?

Alright, I'm done. I have to go fix someone's problems now.

* I mean, other than The Horde of Ecumenical Yodelers (T.H.E.Y.) Narf!


Jonathan Potts said...

You are right; however, it is important to note that this city's elected officials have been telling its residents for years that government DOES know best how to redevelop Downtown and other city neighborhoods. It was Tom Murphy and his URA, not the owner of EZ Records, which bought up numerous Downtown properties and refuses to sell them off piecemeal. This kind of paternalism, in which government is abetted by corporate leaders, has been going on since the first Renaissance. People have been conditioned to believe that city government is the solution to all their problems.

Ol' Froth said...

Left unsaid, but implicit, of course, is that THEY are US. We, the voters, are the government, and if we don't like what government is or isn't doing, then WE are to blame.