Home > Political Animal > Details, details
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
A consulting firm has been chosen for the waterfront project, and another for the arena. Both projects are moving inexorably. But recently city council, voicing many concerns, first delayed, then handily approved, the Riverfront contract. That is council’s job, and the administration should welcome it because this project is massive and will define the city for decades, not to mention will cost lots of money. Measure twice, cut once, two sets of eyes are better than one, many hands make light work, all that stuff. Now the waterfront has been delegated to the Parks Department and to Director Al Moll. A more capable and honest guy would be hard to find in Fort Wayne, but Al is nearing retirement, and the political battles between the mayor’s office and Parks over the decades are legion. Al and the Mayor, to their credit, have created an advisory committee within Parks to guide the Riverfront development. How to strengthen that committee, and how to give it continuity and autonomy, is critical to this long awaited project’s success.
With that in mind our greatest landscape architect, Eric Kuhne, died unexpectedly last week. He not only was our greatest urban visionary, but his projects changed the face of the planet on five continents and in a dozen countries. Locally, Eric created the leafy beauty of Headwaters Park that serves the community in so many ways, including flood
control, and as a venue for our fine festivals. Eric now joins Georg Kessler, Charles Munford Robinson, and Colonel David Foster in watching over expansion of Headwaters and creation of that city in a park that Kessler long ago conceived and Eric not that long ago resurrected. Eric was one of the great urbanists of the world who proved beautification is fundamental to the success of a city. Now, we have a duty to carry beautification forward in the Riverfront and arena, and, for that matter, wherever we have control over our environment. Eric taught us beauty and harmony elevate our lives.
The Homeless Issue
There is no one solution to the homeless problem in Fort Wayne; there is likely no solution at all. Each man or woman has a unique story and completely different set of needs. Homeless Steve was a graying guy I came into contact with as a landlord. He was a very nice, very gentle man, but he didn’t like being inside, he had no interest in the suburban life of family and lawn care, he was a free, if threadbare, spirit who would “hang out” in Fort Wayne for a few months with friends or in shelters, then scrabble together enough cash to take a bus to Indianapolis to hang with a different array of
friends and shelters. Steve was a happy vagabond. Among the other homeless are veterans who suffer the trauma of
combat, people who have made stupid decisions with money and family and ended up under a bridge, those who are mentally ill, others on the run from abusive situations, some are lost and scared, some are predators. There is no one homeless story, and in each homeless person there exists a complex of stories. Over the years Fort Wayne has tried to deal with these citizens with varying degrees of success. The United Way of Allen County has spent hundreds of thousands on various programs throughout the city to support shelters and forms of rehabilitation, treatment and integration. Most programs were and are successes. Private organizations, churches and generous individuals have also done their share. Kudos to the Mayor and team for creating cooling shelters for the summer heat and warm places for the winter, cheers to the many churches that feed the homeless, applause to our various programs that offer the hand up that some take. But, as with everything else, it will never, ever be enough, nor can it. Homeless will ebb and flow in numbers as the economy rises and falls, as social trends change, as government policies veer left or right. Given all the other demands on tax dollars and public programs, the homeless are simply a low priority.
Moreover, with the rapid redevelopment of our downtown, the homeless are squeezed from their niches into increasing contact with more conventional folk. The growing use of the Greenway and development of the rivers result in demands that those sleeping rough are removed so that people will feel safe, or so that our views will not be marred by the detritus of makeshift shelters, mattresses and discarded trash lining the banks. The homeless still are responsible to the law and social norms.
We all have a daunting task as downtown Fort Wayne becomes more active and those niches fewer. In part, helping is about jobs, in part it is about treatment, in part it is stability and a hand up. Some want that hand up, others, like Steve, just want to be left alone. There is no one answer, and there is no end, there will always be homeless. So, it is how we as a community deal with these men, women and children that defines our character.
Mitch, Mitch, Mitch
Former councilman Mitch Harper was involved in a scuffle at the recent Republican National Convention. A woman seated nearby unfurled a protest banner and Mitch was among the first to struggle with her to tear it town. Ironically, Mitch was there as a member of the working press, someone who should be reporting, not policing, who should be upholding free speech, not stifling it.
Recently, some rating organization ranked Fort Wayne as the fifth best managed city in the country. Congratulations are in order to officials, employees of the city, members of boards and commissions, volunteers, to neighborhood associations, and every citizen who has picked up a stray piece of plastic. It is a deserved and welcomed accolade that should give us all pride in our community.