This past weekend we celebrated, along with Number #1 son, my dear wife's birthday with a leisurely meal at Sardine in Machinery Row at the entrance to Willy Street. The food was exquisite, the service was attentive without being overbearing, and the room was authentic. We had a lovely view of Lake Monona straight out the window. The people watching was excellent.
Then the Missus and I took a leisurely walk down Spaight Street. We passed the 1857 Sauthoff house, where its laird, Dick Wagner, spying us on a previous walk, once invited us to his shoreline backyard. We admired the well-tended plantings of the front yards, the filigrees of the Victorian and the heavy lintels of the Greek Revival homes we saw, and the well lived-in integrity of the polyglot neighborhood.
What looked like a swimming class had rendezvoused at B.B. Clarke Beach.
A little bit past, we admired a planting of white flowers shooting from a stalk like a July Fourth sparkler. Looking up, we asked the couple basking on the second floor balcony what might be the genus of this plant. They did not know, but promised to ask the horticulturist who, they said, was due for a visit that very evening.
We past another house where, we were certain, last summer we saw a convivial dinner party pouring wine at a table-clothed table set up outside, on the front lawn.
Up S. Patterson St., we encountered an ancient man walking his dog. Without prompting on either side, we were soon in conversation. The old gentleman raised his sons on these streets back in the tumultuous '60s and, with very few exceptions, the neighborhood was still a great place to live, he volunteered.
Not once did my wife and I dart to the other side of the street to avoid the specter of a panhandler stinking of gin or shouting the C word. This portion of the Marquette Neighborhood, it can be said, is not "troubled."
The root cause of crime - criminals!
In the July 12, 2008 Isthmus, Nathan Comp details the low-rent "magnets for drugs, prostitution and crime" of the South Beltline's "Heartbreak Motels." The district's alderman, Ald. Tim Bruer, wants to take a bulldozer to them. That's the Community Development Approach: smash the offending bricks and mortar. Although in defense of the idea, the separate-entrance Bates motels of the 1950s are tailor-made for crime, it would seem.
Ald. Brian Solomon goes off in the other direction. "We need to look at the root causes of poverty and not just blame a hotel." No cliché goes unturned for this public servant.
Sorry to spoil the treasure hunt, but the root causes of poverty have long ago been unearthed. Skip school, get drunk, do dope, get fired, get knocked up without a commitment from the knocker-upper - that is a recipe for poverty.
Madison has, after all, a social consciousness that would keep Jimmy Carter awake at night. We are Section 8, Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunities Commission, Schools of Hope, Take Back the Night, etc.
And that is where I have been going with these posts on the crime beat.
'Liberalism likes victim narratives'
George Will writes:
Liberalism likes victimization narratives and the related assumption that individuals are blank slates on which "society" writes. Hence liberals locate the cause of crime in flawed social conditions that liberalism supposedly can fix. [A Surprising Story on Crime]
The purely bricks and mortar approach to fighting crime looks impressive but solves nothing. Thus has Madison chased the bad element out of Broadway-Simpson to create LakePoint and now, the same new paint and shutters approach to Allied Drive. Has it worked? What do you think?
"Why is crime rising in so many American cities? The answer implicates on of the most celebrated antipoverty programs of recent decades." [American Murder Mystery in the July-August Atlantic magazine.]
Still, researchers around the country are seeing the same basic pattern: projects coming down in inner cities and crime pushing outward, in many cases destabilizing cities or their surrounding areas. Dennis Rosenbaum, a criminologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me that after the high-rises came down in Chicago, suburbs to the south and west-including formerly quiet ones-began to see spikes in crime; nearby Maywood's murder rate has nearly doubled in the past two years.
If replacing housing projects with vouchers had achieved its main and west … began to see spikes in crime; nearby Maywood's murder rate has nearly doubled in the past two years.
... "Crime is going along with them."
The key is to confront and confine the criminal. Leftists like Andy Olsen, who worry that our jails are "too full" never talk about the alternative - neighborhoods "too full" of criminals. Back to George Will, quoting James Q. Wilson, America's premier social scientist:
The typical criminal commits from 12 to 16 crimes a year (not counting drug offenses) and Wilson says that 10 years of scholarly studies "have shown that states that sent a higher fraction of convicts to prison had lower rates of crime, even after controlling for all of the other ways -- poverty, urbanization, and the proportion of young men in the population -- that the states differed. A high risk of punishment reduces crime. Deterrence works."
'We never walked around the block'
A comment from John Ottinger in the previous post [Get in Their Belly] was too good to miss:
Reading this edition of your blog brought back memories of the late 80s when my wife and I managed an apartment building a block from Allied Drive. We were there for two years, and it was an instructive experience.
We never "walked around the block", say on a summer evening, but rather got in our car and walked or did some other activity elsewhere. We kept our heads down and avoided eye contact with people on the street. We called the police when we heard the occasional gunshots and then huddled inside our apartment, peeking out between the blinds to try and get info to the dispatcher. One night my wife thought to tell me to close an interior door or peek out another window because I was backlit. Another time there was a stabbing (I worked in the 911 center and had taken the call) and I called my wife to tell her about it. She chewed me out for waking her up, and rolled over back to sleep.
We finally had saved enough from our management chores to buy a small home elsewhere in the city. The kicker was for the first three weeks after we moved in we got in the car to go elsewhere, just as we had before. It finally dawned on us that we could walk around our neighborhood in safety.
This is not a liberal-conservative issue. I haven't voted for a Republican since the days of Warren Knowles and Wilbur Renk, and have trouble with you throwing all "liberals" into the same basket. But I agree here, and with the broken window theory. Because it's true.
A rare voice of reason from the Forum
In stark contrast to the nihilists who have burrowed into the Isthmus Forum, Kevin, who describes himself as a social services professional, offers this on-the-ground wisdom.
Blaska's columns are as good a jumping off point for discussions about Madison's homeless population as I have seen. My experience working with the homeless comes as a volunteer and Board member in cities and suburbs in CA, IL and, most recently, Madison.
Those not directly involved usually just throw things at the problem as they pass by. Conservatives throw scorn and Liberals throw a couple of bucks that are too quickly and most often spent on substances.
The organizations that I have worked with have had volunteers from a pretty wide political spectrum. Based on what I've seen, direct work with the homeless makes the Conservatives more liberal and the Liberals more conservative. At the same time, it is not too hard to reach a consensus on issues.
For Madison, there should be agreement that illegal, harassing behavior needs to be dealt with quickly and firmly by the police. There is a reason that Chicago's panhandlers are well-behaved and San Francisco's are in-your-face. Tourism is directly impacted by this. Madison's panhandlers include many who are mean, nasty and ill-tempered and could use a dose of whatever Mayor Daley's finest have done to control their similarly situated citizens.
Concentrating services in the area most visible to visitors and tourists is also a mistake. I'm not suggesting sweeping things under the rug (although I'm sure I will be accused of that). There is no reason to flaunt your challenges as a city to those you are trying to influence positively.
Shelter beds need to be expanded, and more money needs to be spent on case management, alcohol and drug treatment. Madison's greatest success in this area would be to get a reputation for being a great place to turn one's life around. But, not as a great place to be homeless.
This is a recurring feature of Blaska's Blog wherein we identify those who cry wolf, using race as the bait. This week's winner is John Nichols, a serial offender.
Seems that the Green Party, in its never-ending search for the least credible and least viable candidate for our nation's highest office, hit the jackpot last weekend in Chicago, nominating disgraced former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, berater of security guards.
Now, if you take note of her hair-trigger temper and haughty demeanor you are branded a racist. Here is Comrade Nichols in full flack mode:
She has taken her hits from a media and a political class that never could get comfortable with the idea that a young black women was walking the corridors of power and making no apologies.
Or maybe, Comrade John, self-important fools come in all colors, shapes and sizes. [McKinney, Green Party make history]