Friday, June 17, 2011

“It’s Like Giving Your Wife A Fire Extinguisher For Her Birthday!”

Wow, the City of Durham is really cranking this year on repaving projects.  Just as manager Tom Bonfield and his team promised, not only have more projects been jump-started simultaneously but there is more intensity to complete each step and phase of each project much more quickly.

While fixing potholes is important, the author of a new book explains why unfortunately “it will do nothing to create affection or even gratitude in the minds of the citizens…”

…"Fixing potholes is the equivalent of a clean knife and fork in a restaurant. You don’t get a good review for clean cutlery – but you can get a negative review for a dirty spoon...”  Peter Kageyama, author, For The Love of Cities.

He describes fixing potholes as “the functional equivalent of giving your spouse a fire extinguisher for her birthday.” - “It is the stuff cities are supposed to do.”

Thus, long before spittled-tea-party angst, this has been the dilemma faced by public servants whether local, state or federal: they are easy to take for granted, invisible when everything is fine and conspicuous only by messing up.

Often much less burdened by that paradigm, the private sector is singled out by Conservatives as the only sector capable of creating jobs – that is until it becomes suddenly more politically expedient to trash government for not creating them, ironically while demanding never-ending cuts that will result in the loss of more jobs while refusing to raise taxes or let temporary cuts expire because that might, “well” cost jobs.

Of course there are grains of truth to each of those seemingly conflicting positions.  Balance is the key and timing.  There may be some truth to the dictum that the business of government is business, but lets face it, businesses wouldn’t get around the block without governments of every level.

The discussions among business owners in which I have frequently been involved mistakenly assume everyone present was a Republican and those who were most outspoken often parroted that Gordian knot of half-truths and inconsistencies.

Overall, however, business owners, especially the 99.7% that are small businesses which generate 13 times more patents per employee and include start-ups which apparently drive virtually all of the job growth in this country are evenly split in studies when it comes to political affiliation, Republican (33%), Democrat (32%) and even, like me, Independents (29%).

Conversations among business people always seem dominated by those with nothing good to say about government until business in general is brought to its knees by calamities such as when storm drains erupt or levees break or drought overtakes reservoirs or roads and bridges collapse, or food becomes unsafe or  educators fail to turn on a dime to generate a never-ending, always evolving workforce or air and water are polluted or investments devastated by unregulated greed or negligence or both.

It is time for large businesses, in particular, to stop whining, to show a little less arrogance about the need for government and to willingly shoulder a fair share of the costs for public services rather than exploiting every little loophole devised by lobbyists, the closing of which would be the easiest, quickest and most painless way to reduce the deficit.

To paraphrase the author and book I cited and linked earlier, “no one falls in love with a city or state or nation or business, for that matter, because of ‘maintenance’ issues.”

To further adapt the words of the author, while it is true that we may “fall in love with places and give high reviews to businesses based more on emotional connections, it is time we all showed more respect and gratitude for those in the background on whom we rely to keep “the cutlery clean.”

1 comment:

albina N muro said...

It's Like Giving Your Wife A Fire Extinguisher For Her Birthday!” Wow, the City of Durham is really cranking this year on repaving projects. extinguisher stand