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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, July 27, 2007

Neighborhood Associations

I am recovering tonight from having attended a 'hood association meeting last evening.

I'm serious. It's something I never would have done as a single guy - 'cause I lived in a downtown apartment building and really didn't give a crap who my neighbors were or how they behaved, as long as it wasn't criminally dangerous and didn't disturb me when I was at home.

But now, married, kid on the way, etc., I'm thinking peace and quiet and property values. And so, Mrs. B does not have to twist my arm very hard to get me to attend these meetings. Still, I hate them.

When I attend, I am Jekyll. I try to sit and listen quietly and not frown too much and keep my arms uncrossed, 'cause I know that's a gesture that suggests tension and defensiveness. But my Hyde, the reporter in me, inevitably fights his way out. And I find myself biting my lip and my tongue and anything else that will prevent me from speaking up and scoffing at some bad excuse for weak city services or booing some piss poor explanation to why police need to study speeders, before actually arresting them.

I know the association means well. I know the police and code enforcement officers who attend the meetings mean well. The fact is, in the two years since we bought a home in this neighborhood they've done a lot to keep the triflin' among us in line...except for the guy who owns the place next to me. He needs a good kick in the coin purse. And my 12.5 boots are aching to "serve the community."

But anyway, last night at the meeting, one of the police officers pissed me off so badly I was bouncing off the wall.

I live in a neighborhood in flux, a mix of single family homes occupied by middle- (me) and upper middle-class (not me) couples and families - some blue collar, some white collar, and condos and apartment buildings of various quality, most occupied by singles...of various quality. It's in a good location though. Huge condo towers are going up that even if ugly, in my opinion, will push property values up at a slightly faster pace. We walk the four blocks from our house to the heart of downtown all the time, for dinners, drinks, tunes, etc. There's a beautiful park in the heart of downtown, a couple of art galleries, and so on, and so forth. I'm told that 10 years ago, long before we moved to Florida anyone with good sense avoided downtown in my city, 'cause it was like nighttime in the movie Omega Man: only the creepies came out at night. Addicts, dealers, pimps, and hos (real hos, not college basketball players as imagined by talk radio show hosts). And it wasn't a pretty scene. Well, things have changed. Downtown is a thriving nightlife zone, w/high end restaurants, lots of traffic, nice places, nice people, etc.

The addicts and hos though? Some of 'em are still around, mostly bothering people who live on the other end of our neighborhood. There were people at the association meeting who live on the other end who said prostitutes have approached them on the sidewalk. Addicts have wandered into their yards. I see the occasional addict and ho when they stray south and are on their way somewhere (I have no idea where). But luckily I haven't had to plant my boot on the behind of anyone who didn't belong in my front yard or anyone skulking around my block. I realize this is South Florida, and hos - real, professional hos - are everywhere. But c'mom! Would some politician propose a hozone already, perhaps somewhere near all the hotels where conventions take place?

Anyway, during last night's meeting the neighborhood resource officer stands up to reassure folks, and tell them that he's sorry but there's really nothing officers can do about the hos unless officers catch the hos in the act with Johns. After all, the sidewalks are public, right? And there's due process through the law. You can't just yank a ho off the sidewalk for doing the stroll back and forth, right? This is the argument the resource officer makes. It just wouldn't be right to roust people for just "hanging out" and walking around.

If that had been my first association meeting, I might have bought that line. But it wasn't my first. And I didn't just fall off the back of the yam wagon. Neither did Mrs. B. She quickly pointed out something curious. Less than five blocks from our neighborhood, on the other side of a major thoroughfare, is an upscale neighborhood. If our 'hood is middle class, this 'hood across the street ranges from waaaay upper middle class to seriously upscale. The homes over there go for anywhere from $500,000 to several million dollars each.

But here's the curious thing: they have no hos strollin' their side of the street. I swear. We walk our dog in our 'hood and their hood. We drive through and past their 'hood on the way to the beach, a mile or so from our house. We drive through and past their 'hood on the way to nights out or to the grocery. No hos.

What gives?

The stupid side of me says there must be an invisible force field up around our 'hood that compels the hos like ghosts trapped in a haunted house to wander the streets of my neighborhood...for the rest of their lives. And if they stray even 10 feet outside the boundaries of my 'hood their 8-inch pumps and sequined skorts will burst into flames and the hos will turn to dust.

The cynical side of me says that the cop was being disingenuous. Could it be that people in the upscale 'hood who pay more property taxes a few blocks away put their collective foot down and told the cops to get rid of the hos? And could it be the police complied and chased the hos out?

C'mon, hos just stroll our neighborhood, but have no interest at all in walking much wider streets, with much brighter lights, and slightly more lush lawns just a few blocks away? Right.

And yet, the association did nothing. But what could it do - demand the same ho-control plan the folks in the upscale 'hood have? Progress is happening. But that cop - very nice guy - was full of...disillusionment.

Sidewalks are public? Fine. As a "favor" to my northern neighbors, I'm gonna spend the rest of the weekend placing directional signs on every corner in the northern part of my 'hood pointing Southeast and bearing written instructions to the hos on where to find the most comfortable, easy-on-the-bunions sidewalks to stroll in the upscale 'hood.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm gonna take a non-ho stroll to my kitchen, where I plan to retrieve a can of James-brand champagne and toast the great tradition of suspects' rights, while working on my great American novel.

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  • Working girls avoid wide, brightly lit streets for a variety of reasons. Not least of which are these:

    1: Johns won't be looking for them there
    2: Dark hides a lot of ills. Because of crack or whatever habit they're supporting, a lot of girls don't bear too close inspection.
    3: Yep, I bet the property taxes tend to get cops moving. The "other" neighborhood may well have said "Move theose girls down to James' hood"

    By Anonymous og, at 7:24 AM  

  • Supply and Demand, James. There's no demand for hos on the other side of the thoroughfare. Those folks get their kicks through high class call girls.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:57 AM  

  • rent a van. round up all the pimps and hos and crack addicts in your hood. drive them to the other hood. open the door and say, "here's your new home, suckers!" see how long that works. you might be suprised at the results.

    By Blogger minijonb, at 12:00 PM  

  • Good points, Og. I hate to be a cynic. Actually, no, I don't. But since the streets in my 'hood are as well lit as the other 'hood, I can only guess it's a tax/property value thing that makes the difference.

    Sarc, that's funny, but you're probably right. If any body on that side of the street wants hos they probably just come over to our side of the street to get 'em. No need to have 'em in their own front yard.

    MiniJonB, that's an experiment that might be worth trying. I should ask some of the other homeowners if they want to split the cost of the van with me. But seriously, I don't mean to suggest the hos are sprouting on our sidewalks like trees. But if we start to say "Oh, it's just a couple," or "just a few," then we run the risk of becoming complacent and saying "Oh, it's not that bad. I've only seen five or six of 'em lately." Nope. One's too many. I realize that hos have to eat too. But they need to earn their bread elsewhere.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:32 PM  

  • I hope someone pointed out during the meeting that whatever tactics they are using in the upscale neighborhoods to keep the prosititutes out need to be employed in the more moderate neighborhoods as well. Not that it would have made a difference but at least that cop would know he's not dealing with a bunch of yokels.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 8:01 PM  

  • I was also going to suggest that the association in the OTHER neighborhood worked out an arrangement with the hos which involved setting up shop in your area.

    Congratulations on your expected Baby B. That is wonderful news!

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 8:23 PM  

  • Non ho stroll to your kitchen..ok, but you have gotta film it and put it to you tube of course :)

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 9:12 PM  

  • Grizzbabe and HeartinSanFran, I tried to point it out at the meeting, but the assn. pres insisted on moving along 'cause the meeting had dwelled too long on that topic already.

    And HeartsinSanFran, thank you! We're excited.

    Cazzie, I'll record the next stroll to post ;-)

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:11 PM  

  • Since it's really an economic activity you're talking about, why not get the City to set up an area for the activity that needs refurbishing, let the Council make it legal there, and regulate it, sell the rundown apartments to the pimps, set up health inspections weekly, let the pimps advertise, stardardize the rates, and let the City tax the endeavor.

    You'd end the crime of someone carving up a john with a knife. You'd increase tax revenues in the City, and you'd removes the street walking from your neighborhood. Doesn't everyone win here?

    By Blogger The CEO, at 1:16 AM  

  • JB,
    First and foremost, congrats to you and the Mrs. Secondly, I wish more residents in the area would be more like you. You should strongly consider the position of association president. Change is good, and you may just be the right person to do this. There are a LOT of politics. There is a LOT of B.S. There are more broken promises than you can imagine from the City. And yes, you hit the nail on the head when you talk about how the "other hood" doesn't have the problems that "our hood" has. Think about it - JB for pres 2008! You get my vote!
    The Association Pres.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:29 PM  

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