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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Bring quality back to life

I’ve long felt cities should pay more attention to quality-of-life problems.

All communities have their issues, but urban dwellers are more likely to walk outside of their homes and find a pile of garbage on the sidewalk, or spot freshly painted graffiti on a neighboring building. They’re more likely to have to slam on their brakes because a jaywalker darted in the road, or be awoken by the blare of a car horn.

Viewed in isolation, these are relatively minor problems, which might explain why they often go unaddressed. But I often wonder whether they have a cumulative effect. People move out of the city for all kinds of reasons, and while the most commonly cited are usually taxes and schools, I suspect they sometimes include a desire to live in a place that’s clean and quiet.

“There’s a ceiling to how good my street can look,” a friend told me when explaining her decision to move from Schenectady to Niskayuna.

When I heard Schenectady City Councilman Vince Riggi was calling for a crackdown on quality-of-life problems, I was interested in learning more about what he had in mind. Riggi told me he would like to see the city periodically enforce laws on the books against quality-of-life problems such as littering and jaywalking, issuing tickets to offenders.

These campaigns would send the message that such behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and hopefully, over time, serve as a deterrent.

“We have a lot of laws on the books,” he said. “When they’re not enforced, they’re kind of useless.”
Riggi said his initiative pairs well with the city’s goal of increasing home ownership.

“If we’re going to lure people to move into Schenectady, we need to be addressing quality-of-life issues,” he said, noting most of the calls he fields from constituents concern quality-of-life issues — loud music, people who walk in the street and littering are recurring complaints.

“I understand that the police department doesn’t want to be overwhelmed,” Riggi said, “but when they witness someone throw a cigarette in the street, I’d like to see that person get ticketed.”
I agree with Riggi.

People shouldn’t litter, and there should be consequences when they do — otherwise, they’ll just keep doing it. The same is true of the other quality-of-life problems he’s talking about. If loud parties aren’t shut down, they’ll keep happening. If walking in the street is perceived as acceptable, doing so will become the norm.

I do have one concern about a crackdown on quality-of-life problems: enforcement. If quality-of-life laws are going to be enforced, enforcement must be reasonable and fair.

For instance, I wouldn’t suggest launching a jaywalking crackdown in the immediate aftermath of a snowstorm, when uncleared sidewalks often force pedestrians into the street.

There’s also research suggesting minorities and the poor tend to be the targets of anti-crime initiatives. To name one example: While statistics show black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rates, black people are far more likely to be arrested for possession.

I’d hate to see an anti-littering crackdown lead to a similar pattern, where black people are ticketed in disproportionate numbers. People of all ages and races litter.

Riggi said he doesn’t want his crackdown to target specific groups. Rather, the goal is to educate, raise awareness and change the way people behave. “We have to lead by example,” he said.

The details still need to be worked out, but Riggi’s idea has potential. Perhaps it would lead to a cleaner, more livable city. At the very least, maybe it would convince people not to throw garbage in the streets.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

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