10/17/2011

Civic Boosters

If there is one group of people who can irk me to no end it would be the perpetually upbeat civic booster. You know the type. Wherever they live is the greatest place that has ever existed in the entire spectrum of human history!!! (Exclamation points are theirs.)

They're the kind of people who just chafe at the idea that anything in their town or city could possibly be inferior to another town or city. They consistently refuse to see reality because they're too busy "promoting" their town to people who don't care. It's not their job. They don't get paid by the tourism folks or convention bureau, they just feel the need to chirp on and on about the "uniqueness" and "charm" of their city. And, I swear, if I hear one more vomit forth some platitude about how "organic" the people who live in their city are I think I might actually vomit on their shoes. We're not talking pesticide free either. Organic has come to mean the local hippies throw some shindigs that are always in financial disarray but full of "spiritual" platitudes.

There are great benefits to almost any town or city. I loved Halloween in my hometown where hundreds of kids took to the streets of our historic neighborhood. That was "organic" in that no one organized it. Everyone just pitched in and made a great party for all. By the same token the local civic boosters would go overboard on things. When they redid a 19th century opera house to the tune of $6 million the boosters had a field day. They decided to start their own opera company in a town of 30,000 people and no established classical music teachers, singers or programs. Within months they had the temerity to compare themselves to the San Francisco Opera or the Met. Seriously, that is how deluded civic boosters can get! The operas were horrid by any standard but amateur, yet they wanted people to believe their quality rivaled that of Covent Garden or La Scala, and they had the ticket prices to prove it!

I now live in Tucson, whose Halloween sucks for trick or treaters incidentally. For the most part I like the city and its people. If I had my 'druthers I'd be in New England where I'd have some modicum of equality, but since I'm in Arizona, Tucson is the place to be. But the civic boosters here are quite a breed. The downtown is falling apart and dirty. Their development board can't get its act together so the place is a mishmash of uber trendy bistros, junk stores, abandoned buildings, and offices. It's all layered with a fine coating of dirt and grime that make me think of the flight from the cities in the 60's and 70's. The city has mismanaged millions of dollars on some development project for a convention center and hotel that dates back a decade or more. Nothing has ever come of their grand plans except lawsuits, recrimination, and wasted cash. It's like no one has a clue about downtown redevelopment here. Their general approach is to raze any building no matter how historic if they can't think of an immediate use and without any type of architectural board throw up whatever anyone wants. They tore down an historic hotel to put up a glass and steel monstrosity for the power company. When I mentioned it was a horrible waste not to mention blight in an historic area I was taken to task by a civic booster who thought the building would put the Louvre pyramid to shame. Seriously!

Signs from the Occupy Tucson rallies.
As the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread, a local group here joined in and occupied a city park. The protest has been moderately successful with a few hundred people the first day and about 75 the second. I'm sure the number will drop during the week but I hope it will rise again on the weekend. Yet, that has not gone without a goodly dose of civic boosterism. Of course, they don't seem to be decided yet whether a protest is a good thing or a bad thing. That, my friends, is hilarious to watch.

You have one civic booster who touts the protests and is really into them. Tucson has the best around! Woo Hoo! Then you have another civic booster who comes from the "protesting is so messy" camp who delivers a backhanded compliment but quietly complains that Tucson has so much more to be proud of than protestors - after all the city is so "organic" and "while protests have their place" we should focus more on the "organic nature" of Tucson's "vibrant" scene. (ugh) Then a civic booster chimes in about how nice the police in Tucson are. After all, they aren't ACTUALLY arresting people. Just issuing them citations and summons that could include fines as high as $2000, a misdemeanor conviction, and jail time if the fine is not paid. They are also dating the citations so everyone who receives one will have to leave the park (if the protest is still going) to appear in court on the same day at the same times or face jail. Of course, those citations are for EVERY DAY the protestors occupy the park. But, hey, the police are the nicest police in the whole wide world because they're only using financial measures to squelch free speech, not pesky pepper spray and batons.

Seriously, this is how loopy civic boosters get. They must continually find the silver lining in every aspect of their town even if reality dictates there is no silver lining.

Let's face it compare your city to any other half dozen and you'll come up short in at least a few areas. No city is perfect and pretending problems doesn't exist or whitewashing them doesn't help your city improve. When there is a problem the rational thing to do is simply assess and address it, not shut your eyes and start pointing at something else while singing "See, that's good! See, that's good!"

Yes, Tucson friends you have a Blues Festival. I come from a place that has Spoleto USA, an international arts festival that brings in the top performers in classical, jazz, and contemporary music from around the world as well as performing artists, comedians, visual artists, and lecturers. Yes, you have the All Souls Procession which is way cool. But New Orleans and Mobile have Mardi Gras festivals that are world famous. Honestly, you need to have a little perspective. Just because it happens to occur within the city limits of Tucson, AZ does not make it the best version of anything ever done. And that goes for everything in every other city as well.

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