The Paradox of Sucking Less

Updated: Fixed formatting issues; content unchanged

The Recorder leads with two stories today, one on the demolition of a vacant house and an editorial on the recent spate of vandalism (here).  Here is the salient point from the editorial (emphasis mine):

Considering the cost of manpower and materials to repair the damage caused by vandals we think the $20,000 is a worthwhile investment, especially considering the areas it would cover: Veterans Field, Riverlink Park and Shuttleworth Park. If it helps to eliminate or lessen future vandalism it could quickly pay for itself.

I find it interesting that the expense of $20,000 is characterized as an investment. I think the calculus on how our city spends money as expense versus investment is completely backwards as evidenced by this editorial and as discussed within the broader community. If I were to advocate for what I felt were investments — something that will give me a positive return for my money– I would propose the following: marketing the city through the Web and other media; building quality educational programs; rethinking the urban landscape of our city; preserving and enhancing our rich architecture; saving our local museum; and countless more but generally in the same vein. On the other hand, this expense will likely garner much broader support.

What’s interesting though is that any of my proposals would be derisively dismissed as needlessly spending money; in other words, they would not be viewed as an investment at all but as a worthless expense. Yet I’d argue that my programs would move the city past its gradual decline and maybe get us into some semblance of growth and progress along with a generally more livable community.

This is what leads me to my headline for this post: The Paradox of Sucking Less. Much of what we do is merely to suck less rather than to build something great or at least, quite good. The end point of our efforts should not be to raze vacant houses or protect buildings from graffiti; these should be the starting points.Once we complete razing vacant homes and ridding the graffiti, what do we do next? Maybe our tagline should be: “Come to Amsterdam: small city, no graffiti, no blight.”. Sigh.

That said, I do support the $20,000 expense and I do support ridding the city of its blight. The Gazette article (here) talks to some of the players who are making this happen. Kudos to them for their efforts.

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