Writings: Stagnation of a City by Beth Bowser

Stagnation of a City Click here for a printer friendly version of this page

Originally picked by the magazine The Gonzo Press.

I had some long conversations the other day at my city's farmer's market that, to be honest, blew my mind. I had heard of bureaucracy slowing down progress... It does and much of it may be necessary but nowhere near all of it is required to ensure safety and fairness. No, the most important thing I learned in this conversation was that my city council was and currently is blocking progress! This conversation was between myself, an entrepreneurial farmer/butcher/breeder of cows, pigs and chickens, a man who held a post as a city planner, and another resident who had lived here for many years. We spoke of many things near and dear to our area, but I found the inside information on our elected city officials to be the most interesting.

I live in a small urban community about an hour's drive away from a large city with an airport. I am torn on whether to say it's urban or rural. So, we do have a nearby airport and a hospital within a 15 minute drive plus many doctor's offices which are as near as the hospital. However, we have only two groceries and limited retail and restaurants. We have nearly no chain restaurants besides a few fast food options such as McDonald's and Wendy's, but not a single Starbucks. I have come to believe that the reason for the sparsity of retail and food choices is due to our city council and commissioner rather than a lack of business owners interested in the city.

I have lived in my city for a little more than three years and in that time have seen only two new businesses open. One of them, a brewery, closed due to the pandemic. I was very sorry to see them close as they had a thriving business and deals with the nearby bars and restaurants where you were encouraged to bring your food orders into the brewery and eat while partaking of their craft beer.

I asked if the member of the planning committee knew what was going to be done with that building. If the owners were holding it vacant for the brewery to come back after COVID-19 is less of a problem? He said he had no idea, but followed that up with “It appears to me that if the city has its way, it will be vacant for years.” I was taken aback and asked why he felt that way which started a long heated discussion on the vacant buildings. Blights on the city, just as bad as a home in disrepair, but the city has programs to help you fix up your home, however, they care nothing for leaving empty commercial buildings rotting, supposedly looking for tenants for years. The city planner told me of the many bids that had come in for what used to be an industrial plant, bidding to take parts or all of the large building. A tattoo parlor, vape shop and a machinist who would be hiring 300 people with a starting salary of 35 thousand, which is a good salary for my area, were all brought up to the city! All three of them were turned down, regardless of the money they spent on case studies and plotting out the benefits to the city.

The farmer then told us of his attempts to lease vacant buildings to open another grocers. He had put in a bid to open up a butcher's shop with hanging meat in what used to be a dry cleaners and got nowhere. The planner piped in there to say that an owner attempted to open up a new dry cleaners in that same building and got stone walled. even trying to bring back a business that used to hold the same ! I asked in exasperation what they wanted if they were disallowing anyone from bringing in new businesses and the consensus was that they were foolishly holding out for steel or coal or glass or ceramic plants to return to the area. They choose to let the current residents down, keeping paying jobs from returning in the meantime.

I mentioned that at least we had a few restaurants trickling in, like the brewery and our newest Italian place, which took an extraordinary long time to open. I wondered aloud why it took the owner so long to open as it was being worked on for months, almost a year even! I was told after a wry chuckle that his slowness was due to all of the hoops the city was requiring him to jump through, possibly trying to leech out all his money until he gave up and left. He didn't leave. Yet, that is and I hope he won't! The upsetting thing was a story the planner said about the gas station who vacated the building he's in now. He said the gas station was able to tear down an elementary school, build a brand new building on the site and open in a matter of 2 months! I suppose this is another example of those with excess funds being able to grease the wheels of the government.

I nudged my fellow resident then and suggested that maybe we should run for city council and try to make things better. She strongly disagreed with the idea saying it's a mafia organization and telling me I wouldn't be killed if I tried to run for office, but I had no shot. No one can possibly be elected without support from 'the family'. I dislike it, but I don't have it in me to fight an organization that I'm told is impossible to win against and for such a meager reward. One person on a council of five will be shouted out and ignored and the pay is nowhere near even replacing a shift at Subway. It saddens me as this is how corruption is allowed to fester and calls to mind a quote from Dante Alighieri “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

I think I need to find a few someones. Someones not connected with anyone on the current council and time to run for a spot on the council. I'll add in my skills and money to their campaigns!