Chronicling the Renaissance of North Central, the Heart of Columbia

COLUMBIA, Mo 11/13/05 (Editorial) -- On my way to the post office shortly after the election, I went by a
home I've owned for about a year in North Central Columbia. The 63-year-old Blues musician who's lived there for the past 14 years was getting back from a funeral -- his 10th in just a few months.

"I've got friends and family dyin' left and right," he told me. "Now I know why they call it the blues."

He and I got to know one another when I painted his house this summer -- 15 years after the original owners slapped the white siding with gray primer and left it -- to dust and dinge and years of neglect.

This day, he told me about a neighborhood homecoming -- a woman who'd been in prison on crack cocaine and other charges. She might be moving into the house across the street she left behind in handcuffs five years ago, vacant so long a tree has grown out of its foundation. 

He doesn't expect her to make it on the outside, though. She never has before.

When I made it to the post office, an election-day letter took me back to the neighborhood.

Dated Tuesday, 11/8/05 from the City of Columbia, it informs all homeowners on 6th Street in North Central that the city seeks to assess up to $1,200.00 for long-overdue repairs to the street and sewer system completed well over a year ago.  It says that much-needed work on worn-out streets and other obsolete systems conferred a "special benefit" to residents.

Somehow, decent streets, sidewalks and sewers don't -- or shouldn't -- seem special, especially in an area of town that needs all the benefits it can get. The ordinance itself notes that the work was "necessary for the welfare and improvement of the City and that it is in the public interest that such improvements be made."

Hopefully, the city's welfare and the public interest aren't special benefits, either.

Pending a MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2005 PUBLIC HEARING at City Hall, the city council may decide to assess this tax, at 9% annual interest, as a lien on 6th street homes.

For low-income residents, $1,200.00 could break the bank.

For those of us eager to revitalize our city's central residential area -- where poverty, crime, and social problems have
exacted a long, hard toll -- assessments like this serve as a powerful disincentive. We're already repairing the neglect of property owners and residents -- risky, costly, and sometimes disheartening work that confers major benefits to the public generally, and to local residents individually.

Please write, call, or show up on November 21 to let your city council person know that the city's welfare, the public interest, and normal city services are not "special benefits."

And that to Revitalize, we must Incentivize.

It's an approach that's working around the nation and it can and should work here.

-- Mike Martin

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