Dangerous divot in social fabric

While our city continues to grapple with larger-ticket items (take your pick) there are always smaller issues that still need to be addressed. One of those issues occupies about a dozen square feet along Cherry Street.

As any motorist or passerby could well attest, a large rectangular metal plate sits askew on the northbound side of Cherry Street at 28th Avenue. The plate is there to cover the top of the curb inlet, into which flows rain runoff. This would be all well and good save for the fact that the plate does not come close to sitting atop the curb inlet.

Instead, because it has been run over — we suspect that to be the cause — or otherwise damaged‚ the heavy plate sits up at a rakish angle with one of its pointed edges leading the way. Meaning that if a person walking along Cherry Street was to encounter this problem in a bad way, that person might either impale himself on the metal or if he was lucky enough to miss the jagged edge, he would fall into a hole. The word “dangerous” comes to mind, as well as “eyesore.”

It has been this way for many days and weeks and some months if memory serves. The fact that it has existed in this condition for such a term suggests a couple of unpleasant truths about our local government and citizenry.

In the first instance, we wonder why the city street department has not rectified the problem without prompting. While we expect neither omniscience nor omnipresence from a city department with limited budgets, staff and other priorities, we also remember that this hazard exists at the junction of two heavily traveled city streets. It’s not as if it were on some rarely traveled cul-de-sac — but even if it were, it shouldn’t be allowed to languish. Where too are the police? They must cruise this thoroughfare many times a day. Did any of them think to radio in to headquarters to report a dangerous situation? Really, anyone who draws a paycheck from the city of Pine Bluff should be alert for such unwanted wrinkles of daily life — and then take it upon themselves to get the problems addressed.

On another level, we wonder why a concerned citizen(s) hasn’t stepped to the fore and demanded something be done. Perhaps they have and it fell upon deaf ears. It’s not like the street department is renowned for its speedy or attentive responses.

Again, we recognize that this isn’t a perfect world with unlimited resources. That said, we also fall back on the sage admonishments of James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, the primary exponents of “Broken Windows” theory. According to Wilson and Kelling, grave social ills (they were mainly concerned with crime, but the lesson has broader application) often start just this way. An issue that, by itself, is trivial becomes of greater and greater magnitude because people discover that there are no consequences for letting the issue persist.

They use the analogy of a building with one broken window. If left unrepaired, miscreants quickly discover that there’s no penalty for throwing rocks through other windows. Pretty soon a building with one broken window becomes a temple to shattered glass.

Of course we’re not suggesting that this unattended hole will multiply. Rather, we contend that this small hazard is a metaphor for so many problems we face here in Pine Bluff. People become so accustomed to a “what does it matter” mindset that these trivialities spread. The costs multiply. The city becomes pockmarked with disrepair, incivility and festering teacup tempests.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. To be sure, we want this unattractive and dangerous problem to be properly attended, but the repair is far less important than the broader culture of indifference it represents.