It's not just slumlords, drugs, and crime. Those are private sector problems that set in AFTER the decline starts, almost always at the hands of public officials, the very people I once thought would be most interested in preventing the terrible social problems that accompany urban decay.
Poor planning, bad zoning, infrastructure neglect, unfair taxation, and in Columbia, segregation and the great property theft known as Land Clearance
started the central city's decline. Plopping down acres of segregated public rental housing exacerbated it.
In this, I saw a journalistic opportunity: cover local government, public officials, and policy making. Here change would stand a chance
, through the political process.
I hate to burst anyone's Tigertown bubbles, but government in Boone County and Columbia is pretty corrupt
. Surprised me, too, because the corruption masquerades as boosterism
, burying its claws in clever disguises, from non-profit charity work to Democratic Party ideals to building overpriced schools "for the children." These disguises are part of what makes corruption so entrenched and difficult to eradicate
The best measure of corruption's impact
lies in the rich/not rich divide
. Has local government made the not-rich
-- from the low to upper middle income -- any better off than they were 10 years ago?
Are their taxes, rates, and fees lower? Are their personal balance sheets much improved via City Hall, County Hall, or the School District? (And by "much improved," I mean improved by hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars).
Ask that same question about wealthy residents like Stan Kroenke, Bob Pugh, Tom Atkins, Bruce Odle, Hank Waters
, and so forth. In the answer, you find the divide government corruption hath wrought.
It makes sense that we'd be interested in the trees on Stewart. That we'd interview the owner, find out the who, what, why, and how behind that brontosaurus feast.
We've done several stories about trees in jeopardy
, including our recent 5-part series Stumped
with photojournalist Matthew Schacht
, (which I'm pleased to note is under consideration for a Hillman Prize in Public Service Journalism
But the trees at 802 are on private property. There's no rezoning afoot; no widening of Stewart Road; no tax dollars spent taking them down; no apparent intersection with City Hall.
It's tragic on one level, certainly.
But on another level, those toppled trees remind that we still have private property rights. We can still do pretty much what we want with our stuff, so long as it's not depriving someone else of their rights.
At the same time, blight, land clearance, eminent domain, rezoning North Village residents out of their homes, and Constitutional problems with City Hall's rental laws remind that property rights -- like trees -- can be taken away, almost with the speed of a falling ax.
-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat