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Toothless in Fort Wayne

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-01-10


A few years ago a petite blond politician stuck 100 yard signs along my boulevard from Foster Park to Calhoun Street. When informed of the new sign ordinance she explained she thought the law restricting advertising of any sort from the public right of way did not apply to her, special her, just to the rest of us.

As it turns out, she was only partially correct, in reality it just doesn’t apply to anyone. Why, you might ask? Wasn’t the law written to clean up the clutter of junk car buyers, buy-my-house-contract touts, the trashy political mélange, and the scores more of fly-by-nighters who tacked signs on light poles and planted them at intersections? Enough clutter finally hit the fan that council acted and decreed no more signs in the right-of-way. They just didn’t bother to put any teeth in the ordinance, so feel free to stick up anything your little heart desires. Some people do report the illegal signs after which a city employee duly loads ladder and hockey stick into his trusty Impala and GPSes his way to the offending site. Whak! Down it comes. That hour of his time costs you, but the city cannot fine the offending party because the law all but requires the offender is nabbed in the act for a chilling fine to be issued. Who knows, blather city lawyers, some kid may have found the sign and put it up out of a primal sense of anarchy.

The result is that the marketer from the quilt show flaunts the city ordinance because littering the right-of-way with signs is so much cheaper than any other form of promotional advertising, and because there is no down side.

And, there is the sidewalk ordinance. Did you know it is the responsibility of the property owner to maintain their own sidewalks and pay for repairs? Probably not. Most people haven’t a clue, but that’s what the law says. Again, the city ordinance has no teeth, now way to compel repairs. Consequently, some sidewalks look more like yards than walkways, there are many places where one section has heaved eight inches above the adjoining section, there are places where it looks more like landfill than a public path. Eventually, some citizens complain about the general mess in a neighborhood and the city redoes a swatch of sidewalks en mass at a cost to the general fund, that is…on your dime, it is a part of the general budget. The primary beneficiaries are landlords and businesses who let you pay for their sidewalks. The losers are poorer folk in neighborhoods where the association is weak or non-existent, or there is no squeaky wheel to demand the oil. Why bother to comply with the law if, instead, you can wait for the city to redo your sidewalks…for free? But, they don’t. Replacement is haphazard, at best, and depends upon tax collections and the beneficence of city council to approver more of your taxes to pay for my sidewalks. The results reflect the half-assed approach. The city lets “good people,” as former city councilman Tim Pape called them, make their own repairs, even offering to split the costs. But, as the Papism would suggest “bad people” don’t participate, meaning Tim’s good people foot their repair bills, too. Land lords, businesses, the ignorant and the lazy sods among us say thanks… Either enforce the law or rescind it. Oh, and as a footnote: I spoke about this to city officials who obayed the law of squeaky wheels and promised to put my neighborhood sidewalks high on the list… Aaargh. They simply missed the point… Then one of the officials pulled me aside and blamed council, saying they would not have the stomach to enforce the law. Just let the city do it. Perhaps that is the best and most efficient way…

And speaking of no teeth, remember the noise ordinance?

It was passed a decade ago to mitigate the sort of local version of blaring music akin to what the North Koreans hurl across the DMZ.

A fair number of scholarly papers talk about the tyranny of noise in poorer neighborhoods were there is constant thumping and blaring, constant noise from traffic and ghetto-blasters, from substations and generators, ice machines, sizzling neon and more. The papers describe the constant noise as a chronic irritant that significantly adds to the friction that leads to abuse, fights and worse.

I love my music, my collection of Romanian folk ballads with panflute and some screeching, whining instrument, is awesome. I would never impose it on my kind neighbors for fear they would blare Finnish sea chanties right back, nor would I load my car with enough speakers to scatter the North Koreans. And, it irks me and enough other people that cycles now are louder than the roar of a Learjet and that cheap mopeds can be heard over a mile away. In fact, enough people were incensed about the noise issue that council passed long ago an ordinance which the police don’t bother with. One chief told me that Harleys come louder out of the box than our ordinance allows. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away. FWPD just doesn’t bother anymore.

Like the broken window theory, there is also merit in the noise theory. New York City reversed its decay by aggressively tackling graffiti, garbage-strewn lots and broken windows. Other cities have done the same with noise. It is a quality of life issue and, Mayor Tom, an economic development issue. A good night’s sleep should not just be for suburbanites.

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