Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hey Hillary, Look at Me!

I imagine if you caught Doug right as he was getting out of bed, stretching his arms and legs, fixing to head to the bathroom and then downstairs for a cup of coffee, and you asked him, "Where are you the mayor?" he'd have to give it some thought. I envision his brow crinkling in thought, and his index finger rising to his cheek, and he'd say, "Ask me again after I've had my first cup of coffee, okay?"

There are some days, too, I imagine, he's wide awake, and maybe even at his desk in the mayor's office, and he doesn't know where he is (or care). How else can we explain his Trenton Green Initiative?

But I should back up.
I like the environment, and I do think global warming is a real, significant problem. My Canadian husband agrees. Over the weekend — the last couple of days of September, which are clearly autumnal days — I heard him say, "Fuck this global warming shit." Repeatedly. So if there's any way to lower the global temperature, even by just a few tiny degrees, it will make Glen happier, which in turn, will make me happier.

I don't mean to make light of global warming, either. Glen's problem with the heat aside, it's too hot, all the time, anymore, and we're ruining the planet. I know that this is supposedly debatable, and some very intelligent people, even scientists in NASA, don't agree. I just want to establish, for the record, that like Mayor Palmer, I believe global warming is an "issue that confronts us."

So, I think the Initiative MIGHT be a good thing, and I'm heartened to see that the city will be working with a diverse group of people with different areas of expertise. But unlike the mayor, I live in Trenton. I live on a fairly busy corner in the east ward: there is A LOT of traffic on these streets, and people are allowed to double-park, idle in their cars for hours, ride around on off-road vehicles, litter into the sewer drains, spit on the ground, urinate more or less wherever they want, dump their car's garbage all over the streets, toss their ruined tires in our alleys, and allow their used oil to flow wherever it may flow. With impunity.

I know part of the initiative will target businesses, and maybe the schools, and that's all fine and good. But I read in today's Times, that the group plans to expand the energy audits to residential properties (volunarily), and that's where things stop making perfectly clear sense.

I'm not saying every single resident in the city of Trenton double-parks, or idles for hours, or litters, or rides around on dirtbikes, or spits on the ground, or urinates all over the place, or dumps their car's garbage all over the street, or tosses their ruined tires, or dumps their car's oil willy-nilly. But there is obvious evidence all over our city that these practices are far more common here than they are elsewhere. And I am saying that every single person who does any or all of those things knows exactly what he or she is doing. Everyone who does it knows that it should not be done. Again, we have an enforcement issue. Maybe if the city started enforcing its perfectly good environmentally-friendly legislation, we wouldn't need new initiatives. OR, those initiatives could focus primarily on businesses and institutions in the city, which certainly could use the helping hand. And there are a lot of messy, potentially polluted, and outright contaminated sites, abandoned, around this city that could use some attention, too. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself: maybe these things will be examined in our new Green Initiative?

Enforcement always seems to be a keyword here, and it is easy for me to sit here in front of my computer and complain about the lack of enforcement here, but I'll be honest: no judgment, no criticisms -- why is enforcement so relaxed here? What's the problem? Is it a bad word? Even if I don't understand why our laws are not enforced, and would like to, we need to figure out a way to just friggin' start enforcing the rules, instead of making new ones that won't get enforced either.

I hate the analogy of the people as children and government as parent, but we, as humans, have these sorts of relationships in every area of our lives: leader-citizen, parent-child, teacher-student, doctor-patient, priest-parishioner, boss-employee. We have leaders, parents, parents, doctors, ministers, and bosses to represent us, to look out for us, to offer guidelines. And to enforce society's rules.

In the parent-child model, enforcement often is proof of love, proof of involvement, proof of commitment. The kid may resent some of the rules, but she eventually grows into an adult who functions well in society and knows right from wrong, and chooses to do right. When an elected leader -- someone we believed in, chose to represent us -- stops enforcing the existing rules, it sends a very clear message: "I do not care about you enough to encourage you to do the right thing."

That is at the core of nearly all of the problems that plague us in the city, as a society. At home, kids don't feel care for or loved, so they join gangs. But society as a whole writes off gang members, and doesn't (or can't) work hard enough to offer viable, attractive alternatives. And importantly, certainly people outside the cities don't care at all. These kids, because of their family lives, feel unwanted and worthless; because of the lack of enforcement in the street, that message is reinforced: society doesn't care either. And so they kill each other. Because they don't matter, even to themselves.

That's heartbreaking. But, all of society's ills cannot be blamed on elected officials, though elected officials are in a position to really affect positive change, simply by enforcing the laws on the books. Government enforces the rules, and it sends a clear message to everyone: "We care about this neighborhood, about you." Even if the crack moms and drug dealers and gang members continue to create dysfunctional families, they will learn, at least, they can't be so blatant; the children of these people will see and interact with people who do care about them, and maybe that will make the difference.

So, I'm not saying we need to abandon Doug's Global Warming Educational Campaign here in the hood, especially since I haven't read the fine print. I'm sure (right?) the people behind this are tweaking the initiative to suit the city (right??). PSE&G is working with the city to audit heating and air-conditioning systems, and hopes offer greener services to the city's residents. We have, according to some reports, more than 20% of our population living below the poverty line. According to wikipedia.org, the per capita income here is just above $14,500. So even the people living above the poverty line likely do not have much disposable income. I mention this because while I love the environment, the citizens of Trenton need to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, even if it means doing so with their inefficient heating and cooling systems. Maybe there will be grant money available, and maybe many people will take advantage of it.

Still, Doug's enthusiasm for this initiative is suspicious, especially with so many other environmental and societal woes affecting this city that could be addressed properly with existing legislation. His enthusiasm does not say (to me), "I'm committed to the people of this city and will do whatever it takes to make the lives of the citizens of Trenton better." It says, "Hey Hillary, look at me!"

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