No matter how beautiful you and I may think Tallahassee is, the reality of our situation is various areas of Tallahassee face a variety of obstacles to overcome if we are to ever achieve our ultimate goal in making all of Tallahassee's as lovely as it should be. As clean as it can be. When we talk about the condition of Tallahassee's streets and neighborhoods, the story could very well take on the characteristics of day and night depending on what side of town you're on. I always tease by saying it is as if someone took a magic marker and drew an imaginary line down Monroe Street, and on the east side of that line they decided to keep everything neat and clean, on the west side of that line -- they let the litter fly.
Hopefully we all know the above is not true, as a matter of fact, there are beautiful neighborhoods in all areas of our city, yet, as citizens who want to take Tallahassee to the next level, it is past time we find a way to ensure no matter how diverse the various sectors of our city are in economic and demographic makeup, none is inferior to the other. We should strive to ensure no part of our community is kept in a condition of disrepair and neglect, souring anyone's opinion of Tallahassee or tarnishing our reputation as Florida's beautiful capital city.
In Real Estate 101 they teach how owner occupied neighborhoods are better preserved than those occupied by tenants. It happens that the west side of Tallahassee is where the city's colleges and universities are located, and therefore, this side of town is home to the majority of Tallahassee's college student population -- many of whom happen to be renters/tenants at an apartment complex, townhome, duplex, or rooming house within a west Tallahassee neighborhood.
Having been a college student in Tallahassee myself, I know the challenges of balancing the task of getting an education with working a job and caring for a home. Often it didn't seem there was enough time in the day to keep my bedroom clean, yet alone the outside of my home. One could make a number of valid excuses for not having enough time to care for their place of residence -- not to mention the over-arching feelings of, "This is just Tallahassee" or "This 'aint' my house" that so many students, usually from out-of-town, often adopt.
A few issues exist if we choose to take on the challenge of cleaning up some of Tallahassee's tenant-dominated neighborhoods. First, we need to find a way to empower the residents who care to see a "more fabulous" community reborn, by providing them safe means to communicate with their neighbors and/or neighborhood code enforcement officials to tackle the issues that impact the quality of their neighborhoods:
If there's litter on the street, who picks it up?
If there's a couch left on the lawn for months, can I as a neighbor do anything about it?
Do residents know to keep their black trash cans out of the street on pick-up day?
Do they know it should be rolled back up to the house the evening of pickup?
Are there penalties for not caring for one's lawn?
Do residents know that loud noise after certain hours is unlawful?
Should duplex, townhome, and apartment complex owners be required to maintain the exterior of their properties for tenants?
These are some of the questions we should be asking ourselves as we look to resolve imbalance between the quality of neighborhoods in Tallahassee's more affluent areas to those in student/tenant-dominated areas.
Years ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Dee Crumpler, then director of Code Enforcement for the City of Tallahassee, and two nice ladies from Tallahassee’s Neighborhood and Community Services department to share my concerns about the condition of some of Tallahassee’s neighborhoods. As we exchanged ideas, Mr. Crumpler noted he and I shared a common pet-peeve with litter on streets and residents not rolling their black trash cans up to their homes after pick up. He noted not only are those trash cans unsightly if they are allowed to sit out at the road for days after pick-up, they also pose a safety hazard, as drivers on narrow roads often must swerve to keep from hitting them.
Not long after that meeting my utility bill contained an insert that carried an idea Mr. Crumpler shared with me:
The section of the insert reads:
Help Preserve Our Neighborhoods by “Scouting”
You can help preserve the appearance and integrity of your own neighborhood by becoming a Neighborhood Scout Volunteer. Through this unique program offered by the City’s Community Development Department, scout volunteers are citizens who remain aware of the condition of their neighborhood, work with neighbors to maintain the quality of their neighborhood, and assist their neighborhood association and the City in correcting neighborhood code violations.
Volunteers independently conduct their activities and interact with their homeowners association or the City when they deem it necessary. If you would like to become a Neighborhood Scout Volunteer, then please contact Neighborhood Code Enforcement at 891-6500 and ask to speak with the program coordinator.
Reading this absolutely made my day! It seems there’s something very special about this city of ours. Somehow it knows when something is wrong with it and makes a timely effort to cure. I don’t know if being a neighborhood scout is the answer some of our neighborhoods need, however, it seems a fine place to start if you’re a citizen in this community passionate about seeing something done to make it better place to live.
Looks like I'll be contacting the city soon to volunteer. It's about time us citizens got more involved in making life better for ourselves -- I'm glad the City wants to be a partner. In the mean time, we need to continue to look for ways to balance the way local government, on all levels, ensures environmental integrity and cleanliness of neighborhoods throughout all quadrants of our city, and not just those downtown and in the north east.