Let’s Get Civilized Y’all
Last week I talked about the need for us to move forward in our communities with new street improvement, underground utilities, and a master landscaping—parking lot plan for major entryways. Today I will focus on the need to enact greenspace and signage ordinances. But before we go any further in our discussion, let’s talk about why we should bother.
In that regard, we should review the progress or lack of progress our communities have made over the last 20 years. When I talk about progress, I mean our progressive growth and the creation of a community that is a more pleasant place to live and work. If your community is like most in our state, you have just been treading water. Our whole concept of growth, industrial recruitment, and quality of life must be re-examined if we intend to have successful communities in the years to come. What I am suggesting is that we throw out the failed methods we have been using and adopt new ideas and concepts which have already proven to be successful in cities around the world. When we review these ideas, remember city after city has already implemented every suggestion I will make. They work. In order for us to understand why the visual improvements are so important, we must recognize our level of civilization here in Arkansas. Now I know we think that the United States is the apex of civilization, and certainly Arkansas is not vastly different from other sections of the country. Well, sorry to disappoint you folks, but the United States and certainly Arkansas is not as civilized as many western European countries. I know our technology, medicine and abundance of consumer goods far surpasses most countries of the world; however in a great number of areas, Western Europe still leads the way.
To illustrate the level of civilization, let me remind you of one of the most obvious indications of civilized country; the absence of significant litter. Now before you scoff, take a look at Mexico, or for that matter, any third world country. Trash and litter are everywhere. Then look at Switzerland; street sweepers clean every scrap of litter from the streets every day, and the country looks like a Disney Nature Reserve. Let me give you an example of the Swiss mind-set. A couple of years ago we were in Switzerland on vacation. We were riding a train out to a hiking area when we passed through a town that was obviously preparing for a parade. We got off the train, found a good viewing spot, and settled in to watch an extensive historical military parade. As we waited for the parade to start, I noticed vendors selling everything from ice cream to sausage rolls. A few feet away, a young girl about 10 years old purchased an ice cream bar wrapped in wax
paper. She unwrapped the ice cream, folded the wrapper into a small square, looked for a trash can, and then when she couldn’t find one, she simply put the wrapper in her pocket. When the parade finished, the several thousand people who had been eating and drinking didn’t leave one scrap of paper on the ground. Contrast that to the scene in War Memorial stadium after a football game. In every third world country I have ever visited, it’s always the same. Trash and litter abound. It’s the most common signature of a third world country. No, we’re not a third world country, but we’re not as civilized as we could be.
As people become more sophisticated and civilized, the most obvious characteristic of their culture is the absence of litter. The other items, such as tree-lined streets, underground utilities, and more green spaces, follow in short order. What we must do is recognize that we do need visual improvements, not only to make our community pleasing to the eye, but to create a positive image which will help us recruit good responsible jobs and to keep the jobs we now have. To be competitive in today’s job recruitment environment, we must offer an attractive community that a plant manager would like to live in. So visual improvements must come before we even try to recruit new jobs. My goal is to focus our attention on our visual problems and make suggestions as to how we can correct them. Maybe we aren’t ready to solve them. It could be that my town and your town will have to wait for our grandchildren to correct these eyesores. However, no doubt one day every city in the state will accomplish these goals. I believe it’s time to start.
Now, let’s go back to our original list of eyesores. We have talked about how we need to bury the maze of utility wires, and we also noted a tree-lined avenue would certainly enhance the visual aspects of both entryway streets. But let’s don’t stop there. Two other items must be addressed if these two streets are to be attractive entryways into our community. First, the cluttered signage present on these streets. The most progressive communities around our country and around the world all have sign ordinances. Some are so restrictive that they ban any signs not attached to the place of business and forbid signs from extending higher than the building itself. We are probably not ready for that much regulation, but surely we can see the wisdom in passing an ordinance that would prohibit signage taller than 6 feet and would prohibit portable signs altogether. You can’t imagine how much this would help to beautify these key streets. If you are a merchant, you are probably thinking how much business you are going to lose when you take down your 100 foot sign. On the contrary, when everybody has the same signage there is no loss of business. In fact, the present situation gives the large, well-funded, multi-national companies an advantage over a small local business.
Next on our list of eyesores are our parking lots. Let’s give credit to a few of our companies and individuals that have already landscaped their lots. However, as you can see, they are definitely in the minority. A greenspace ordinance is a key to a truly beautiful city. With this ordinance, a reluctant property owner would have no choice but to plant or leave a designated amount of his parking lot as greenspace. Fayetteville recently passed such an ordinance for a new bypass area that would require 25% of each lot and one out of 10 parking spaces to be landscaped. When we add the greenspace ordinance to our street improvements, our signage ordinance, and, underground utilities and then the resulting tree lined avenues will exemplify a progressive city. Not only will we be able to attract the quality jobs we need, but the resulting improvements will restore our sense of community pride.