Saturday was a day of sunshine and the fairytale images of community unity that only survive with the gleeful coverage of news media and politicians seeking re-election. To look at the situaton, specifically at the corner of Edwards and North Streets in Binghamton, NY in any other manner would be to ignore the reality that is otherwise present every day.
Yes, it is important to infuse communities with the impetus for positive change. Yes it is vital for a community to feel good about its prospects and surroundings. But to feed false hopes and provide empty actions, the result is a net trend opposite to the desired outcome.
The goal of painting a mural at the intersection of Edwards and North Street has been stated as a show of community strength. According to the City of Binghamton website on Design Your Own Park
“This area, which experiences some of the highest crime rates in the city, is actively engaging many of the youth in the immediate area to provide them a more positive alternative to gang activity while also beautifying public space.”
According to Mary Webster, this was the 2nd event of Safe Streets Binghamton and chosen by over 100 community residents.
Here is the problem though. A painting on the street may look nice, but what does it do? The volunteers and efforts are appreciated, but how can it be concluded that it is anything but futile in the end? In a month at the most, snow will be covering the mural until the thaw of April. How does that achieve the goals of the City of Binghamton or Safe Streets?
This says nothing of the other realities of the situation.
The corner of Edwards and North Street in Binghamton is acknowledged as one of the most crime ridden in Binghamton. Gangs exist there and there is a strong drug dealing presence in the area. The area is equally known for the lower incomes of many residents. Just 1 block away from the mural, on the corner of Mather and North Street (47 North Street to be exact) is the striking example of blight that is part and parcel of the true prolem. A problem that cannot be resolved by a few buckets of paint.
The city, violent crime rate for Binghamton in 2009 was higher than the national violent crime rate average by 12.62%, and higher than the average for New York State by 25.72%. The city property crime rate in Binghamton was higher than the national property crime rate average by 53.96%, and higher than the State of New York by 141.45%. Resident in the Edwards Street area are firmly aware of the 2 stabbings and 3 shootings in the past 3 months alone. Crimes that were largely ignored by the local media.
But the answer to these realities, the conclusion of 100 residents in multiple meetings, was a single grant for paint. Consider also the well stated goals for the paint. Safe Streets Binghamton hopes to achieve
…increase home ownership and encourage students to play an active role in our community”
according to their Facebook page. Further, Safe Streets goal is partially that of the
“West Side Neighborhood Project, an initiative dedicated to building a safe, vibrant, and diverse student-friendly”urban village” on the West Side of Binghamton.”
Student friendly. Catering to students of Binghamton University, and more importantly the income they bring to the city. Not a focus on community. Not a solution to the problem that is poverty, low incomes, lack of jobs, gangs, and/or drugs.
We decided to ask what residents around the Edwards Street mural thought of the event, and what they thought would be a benefit. We wonder if any of the rest of those covering the event bothered to do the same.
Gerald Phillips, a family man who works in the area, told us
“I would say its a bit short sighted of them. To worry about trying to beautify the neighborhood, until they remove the crime. It’s a damn shame when people have to post armed guards infront of their businesses to conduct business with the crimnal element [in the area] and yet they are more worried about painting the street than they are about taking care of the crime.
M V Consulting: Do you think it’s going to have a positive effect?
Mr. Phillips: What? Painting the sidewalk? No I don’t think it’s going to have much effect on crime. That’s our biggest problem. When 1 out of 10 calls is coming to this neighborhood, then it honestly doesn’t make much sense to put money into beautification projects. All it does is make it easier for the landlords to attract college students into the neighborhood. That just makes fatter geese for the plucking.”
In the end we are left with the same thought. Does a mural distract the drug dealers and addicts that have proliferated on Edwards Street? Will the paint on the ground prevent future crime, or remove the greed that drives some to illegal crimes?
There are many things that could make the streets of Binghamon safer. We do not count paint as one of these things. Yes, the hearts of the volunteers may have been in the right place, and the greed of some landlords may have been focused – but after the feel good images on the nightly news and the cheerful day of press coverage what then? Residents of the high crime area are left no better off, and once again mostly ignored.
We suggest an idea for the next benefit to Binghamton neighborhoods. Arrest the criminals. For loitering, for selling drugs, for every crime they can be arrested for. The crimes that cannot lead to arrest should be ticketed. Make the efforts of police a daily or at least weekly event. Task those that would plague the good citizens daily through the full use of the law and give them reason to either give up their crimes or leave. Prove to the youth that crime does not pay and that a blind eye will not be given.
No more than what a just and legal society allows, but no less either. Once that has taken hold, paint and beautify. At least then there will be a lasting effect beyond the fleeting images on tar quickly covered by snow and salt.
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