When my daughter Ramsey was in the fifth grade, a rite of passage was completing fire safety training. As far as I know, fifth-graders all across the country have to endure a similar process, but she and I both were fairly horrified by the experience and were left wondering if it was really necessary.
That sounds ridiculous, I know. I mean, why shouldn’t kids learn how best to protect themselves and their families from the dangers of fire? There is no question that important information was provided, but the method of delivery was shocking at best, downright PTSD-inducing at worst, and it was the first time that I realized how often we play to the lowest common denominator when a little bit of common sense is all that is needed.
Let me explain. During fire safety week, the kids were required to watch a video each day about various concerns with hazards in the home. In one video they were subjected to a reenactment of a child getting electrocuted in a bathtub by a hair dryer. Another day they showed a child catching on fire while playing with flames. Another day they showed very graphic images of skin grafts on burn victims. Ramsey came home traumatized every day!
Every day, my question was, “Who really needs to see such graphic stuff in order to understand the logical dangers of playing with fire?”
Why do we feel the need to regulate, modulate and educate good, logical, law-abiding folks to the standard of the lowest common denominator? It’s called overreach, and sadly, there are quite a few recent developments that fall in the category right here in beautiful Rome.
We let them convince us that we had a problem with people smoking on Broad Street. Smoking is bad for you, no question about it, and if you are not a smoker, it is not pleasant to have to experience someone else’s smoke while you are enjoying the plethora of pleasures that Historic Downtown Rome has to offer. But, as we learned in the process of attempting to increase the restrictions of such activity, it is difficult to enforce and problematic for downtown businesses where patrons and employees are likely to partake. What did we end up with? An ordinance that is basically identical to the old rules, a lack of enforcement by an already overworked police force ... and, signs.
Most of us agreed that we have a problem with parking downtown and, after extensive conversations about the best management plan to relieve some of the burden on Broad Street, it was rapidly determined that we would get kiosks on Broad, a fancy car to monitor the parking practices of those visiting downtown and free parking in decks to pull traffic away from the bustling heart of our town’s commerce ... and, signs. We have ended up with extended parking time on Broad Street, paid parking in the little-used decks with prominent signage directing visitors to these least desirable yet most expensive spots and an $80,000 car that is quick to ticket (even when you have pieced together less than the allotted time over the course of the day) that is staffed by one or two folks driving around downtown from sunup to well after sundown “collecting data.” I have seen the car patrolling a nearly empty downtown well after 11 p.m. at night and wondered what on earth they are gathering that justifies the cost?
Now, we are being given the opportunity to chime in on new, giant, neon green signs with flashing lights to protect the pedestrians of Broad as they traverse the marked crosswalks at each intersection. It was difficult to secure any significant data on the matter, but I did learn that there have been a grand total of two incidents involving a pedestrian in the last two years. No one wants to see anyone injured in a crosswalk, but is it really necessary to install such huge and hideous signage in our beautiful downtown in order to shout at the folks who choose to roll through the crosswalks without yielding to pedestrians? I have had people ignore the signs when I’m in the crosswalk numerous times, and I am positive that bigger, flashier, scenery-blocking signs are not going to get them to stop.
Yet again this past week, we have been told that the commission is on the verge of voting on a very vague and far-reaching ordinance intended to support the police in controlling a very small and specific problem titled “Urban Camping.” We have an embarrassingly large population of homeless people in Rome and a few of them are choosing to set up housekeeping in the nooks and crannies of our downtown. This is absolutely something that needs to be managed for general safety and sanitation, but I would implore our city leaders to be very careful in how they go about defining the problem. Let’s be careful in how we impact the desperate souls seeking solace in more logical locations as we try to keep our more public places safe.
You, as a citizen of Rome, have the opportunity this week to speak up about how we regulate the masses to manage the lowest common denominators. I believe that we as a community are better than that. I believe that we can manage our small problems with more logic and compassion and prudence than what I am seeing of late. Let’s demand that we assume the best in the majority and work to improve the minority as they reveal themselves.