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The Small Stuff Matters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shane M. Graber, BT Contributor   
November 2015

bigstock-Broken-Window-with-focus-to-Wi-87842726Disorder is a virus that breeds apathy and crime

Disorder is a virus that breeds apathy and crime

Mbigstock-Broken-Window-with-focus-to-Wi-87842726ost of us have read or heard of Richard Carlson’s 1997 Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff. In it, Carlson provides readers with enlightened tips on how to live a peaceful and joyous life -- and to not let the little things become obstacles to your happiness.

I thought of Carlson’s book when I attended the Upper Eastside neighborhoods town hall meeting October 20 at Legion Park.

Mayor Tomás Regalado proudly boasted of all the great projects coming to Miami, thanks to a rebounding real estate and development cycle: more capital improvements for parks, more police, and lower taxes.

While this all sounds great, I think the highlight of the meeting was when a gentleman in the audience asked Regalado what the mayor was doing about the small stuff that really matters.

You could hear a pin drop.

I agree with the questioner -- for such a boom town and burgeoning international gateway, Miami still lags when it comes to managing the little things that matter big.

I’m talking about trash, code enforcement, graffiti, and prostitution. These issues continue to plague the Upper Eastside and lead to big problems, including increased crime, lack of respect for law and order, and depressed property values.

Let’s start with graffiti. We’re constantly battling unsanctioned graffiti. All along Biscayne Boulevard, taggers constantly leave their brash signatures on our public street signs, buildings, and trees.

This sends a huge signal to anyone passing through that the Upper Eastside is an uncontrolled war zone where anything goes.

To make matters worse, the city just eliminated its Graffiti Busters program -- a quick-response team that painted over graffiti. So now the community suffers longer-term visual disorder.

Illegal advertising signs are another indication of disorder. We see tacky signs and flyers placed in and on our sidewalks, swales, trees, and street signs -- everything from “I Buy Houses -- Cash” to flyers for a new hip-hop album release. The city should remove these signs and penalize the offenders. Send the signal that the City of Miami will not tolerate such conduct.

City leaders are proud that prostitution has dramatically decreased in the Upper Eastside. That said, any blatant signs of prostitution are unacceptable and reinforce a sense of lawlessness.

On any given day, hookers walk along the Boulevard and 79th Street without consequence. By doing nothing, the city is actually condoning this behavior and hurting our community by inviting more crime.

Prostitution and illegal drug activity are still apparent in some of our non-revitalized MiMo motels -- yet the city does not use its own nuisance abatement policy to penalize the sleazy owners who put personal profit over community consequence brought on by the criminals the motels harbor.

Nobody questions the link between prostitution and drugs, and the correlation in crime that this brings to the Upper Eastside.

In our public parks, despite signage that clearly prohibits fishing and provides clear park hours, the police rarely enforce these petty laws.

In Bayside, where I am board president, fishing at Baywood Park is rampant, even though we just worked with police to install “No Fishing” signs. Homeless people sleep at Legion Park without being questioned.

No wonder we see condoms, beer bottles, and drug paraphernalia in our parks. And it’s these “little things left unattended” that invite bigger problems, because criminals see there is no enforcement.

Trash is another big issue for the Upper Eastside.

We are fortunate in Miami that the city provides weekly bulky trash pickup, saving us from making a trip to the dump. That said, because of this service, our neighborhoods become illegal dumping grounds for landscapers, contractors, and anyone who wishes to dump their trash on our streets.

To make matters worse, even though trash shouldn’t be put out until the night before pickup, residents dump all week long. It’s not only unsanitary, but it invites other problems by sending the signal that the city is lax on enforcement -- the city doesn’t cite homeowners who create this mess.

These trash piles pollute our streets and decrease the quality of life. They also encourage more illegal dumping since, apparently, the thinking is that “everyone’s doing it, so I guess it’s no big deal.” Disorder is a virus.

Perhaps the least enforced yet most important municipal responsibility is code enforcement.

I’m not talking about someone changing his kitchen counters over the weekend without a permit. I’m talking about all the little things visible from the public realm that, when added up, lower our property values, reduce our quality of life, and cause people to be apathetic about caring for their properties.

These issues include dirty roofs and façades; chipped paint; broken fences; overgrown lawns; cars parked on lawns; trash bins left out all week; illegal window signage in businesses; dirty sidewalks, swales, and medians -- and the list goes on.

I believe we have only two dedicated code compliance officers for the entire northern section of the city north of 36th Street. This is absurd. If our elected officials care about quality of life, they should significantly increase enforcement.

One only has to cross the border into Miami Shores to see excellence in action -- residents there are held accountable for the maintenance of their houses, lawns, sidewalks, and swales. You not only see the difference, you feel it.

Take a lesson from Missoula, Montana, which has implemented the “broken window” theory of law enforcement. According to Missoula’s website, the term explains this phenomenon: “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.” Thus, little things do matter.

Missoula based its approach on New York City’s, where former mayor Rudy Giuliani is credited with applying it to a “community-policing strategy” that helped result in an impressive drop in crime in the 1990s.

In an article published in the Atlantic Monthly, the scholars who developed the theory, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, state that “a government’s inability to control even a minor crime like graffiti signaled to citizens that it certainly couldn’t handle more serious ones. Disorder, therefore, was creating a crisis that threatened all segments of urban life.”

My wish to city leaders: If you own Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, please throw it away. Do not apply the lessons from that book to our city.

Instead, please sweat the small stuff.

It’s the small stuff that really matters. It’s the small stuff that keeps residents up at night. No major capital improvement bonds are needed; no fancy equipment; no multimillion-dollar study. Just good old-fashioned enforcement of the laws already on the books.

 

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