Recently, we listened to a broadcast on KGHI-FM 91.1 of the Rev. William Barber’s passionate talk that he had delivered at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on May 1. We attended the original gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign, but it was helpful to listen to his words again in light of the recent ruling by the Aberdeen City Council prohibiting sitting or lying down on sidewalks.
It’s clear this ordinance is directed toward people who have very few options in life. Our society used to call them “derelicts” — maybe still does. As Rev. Barber pointed out, and as we all know, we are experiencing a time in our country where there is such income inequality that many of us may find ourselves derelict.
That is a very important discussion we must have. But I actually want to point out a related issue that our cities don’t seem to address at all, and that is “derelict” buildings. We seem to punish the victims of our societal failures but we do nothing about the people who own the dozens of buildings in our towns who allow their properties to deteriorate.
Why do you think that is? Because the owners are people of property? It’s OK to sweep people of no means off the sidewalks but not force building owners to repair and renovate their properties? We want people to stop in our towns and shop in our stores. I don’t have to point out what our towns look like with all the decrepit storefronts, which have nothing to do with people sitting on the sidewalks.
Many business owners have done a wonderful job of fixing their buildings, and we all cheer them on. But too many are left to fall apart and we have lost so many lovely buildings to car lots and empty fields. I’ve complained about this many times and been told there isn’t any way to force building owners to keep up their property. Why not? Other towns have done so. Other towns develop design criteria that must be met by property owners.
Before we punish those who have no power to fight back, let’s look at what is really causing our downtowns to fail and do something about it.