I have to say I was slightly frustrated when reading yesterday’s BDN article about the council’s proposed solutions regarding “bad behavior” in Pickering Square. While I applaud them for trying to look for solutions, I really think they are missing the point.
First of all, let me mention that the square itself is lovely, and that when great things like the Cool Sounds concert series on Thursday nights or the Friday night River City Cinema events are going on, it is a fabulous place to be. It is also a very safe place to be, a place I would not hesitate to bring my family for an evening out. However, there are other times I will not go there. This is a very real concern.
I also want to point out that the bus station has absolutely nothing to do with “bad behavior” downtown. I would suggest if councilors have never ridden the city bus, a trip or two around town would give them far more info than a ridiculously expensive study. Many of us who live in Bangor ride the bus, to school or to work. We do so because we are saving money on gas, or reducing our carbon footprint. These things are important to us. They are one of the reasons we live in this city.
I have lived and worked in Bangor for over 16 years. I have lived in Maine much longer. I have raised my children here. Every one of them graduated from Bangor High School. You learn a lot about a city when you are raising teenagers so if you don’t have any, and you want to know more, go talk to someone who does.
Another place I learned an awful lot was during the ten years I worked for Bangor Adult Education, at the Learning Center. I worked with high school drop-outs, laid off workers, young girls on welfare, young men on probation, Job Corps kids, people with mental illness, folks with learning disabilities and recent immigrants needing English classes. You want to learn more about this city, spend some time there, or at any other similar agency, where the rubber meets the road. Spend some time talking to these folks and you will know what this city needs and what it doesn’t need any more of.
How about the shelter? Have you ever served a meal at either of them? These are not the people who will take the time to write the council a letter, or attend a meeting at City Hall. Yet, these are citizens of Bangor, just like the rest of us. You need to hear from them. Even better, if you want to find out what’s going on in Pickering Square, go hang out there. Talk to the people who are there. Find out why they are there in the first place. I know, it’s radical, it’s risky. Do it anyway.
I don’t claim to know the answers. In fact, I have no idea what the answers are. I just know if we are going to make this city better, if we are going to solve these problems, then we need to fully understand them. It doesn’t require a lot of money either, just time, and sincere conversations.
You see if you pump obnoxious music into the square, or waste the time of the Bangor PD by having them write out tickets for swearing or loitering, you are only moving the problem. You are not solving it. The people who are hanging out in the square will move to another area of the city but they will still be here. The problems that come with them will still be here. The reasons they are hanging out in the square and not working or going to school will not change.
Those “juvenile delinquents” who are hanging out downtown, who are making people feel unsafe and causing problems, where did they come from? Are they children who grew up in this city? Did we fail them in some way? Kids don’t turn out like that without a reason, there is pain and need behind that tough exterior. What can we do differently with the younger troubled kids that are living in our city right now, that are part of our school system right now?
You see sometimes it’s as simple as replacing something bad with something good. When good things are going on in Pickering Square, the bad things aren’t there. The same can be said for the lives of our children. Fill them with good things.
A friend of mine posted a picture this week online of the site of the new skate park, the one we moved from downtown to Union Street that now looks rather sad and abandoned. His caption was “do better Bangor” and he couldn’t have been more right. Bangor’s kids are the responsibility of all of us and not just the kids who excel at sports and not just the kids that will up the stats at Bangor High by going on to great colleges, but all of them!
Big cities all over the country face these problems. As Bangor continues to grow and prosper it will too. Moving troubled citizens along is a tactic they use in larger cities, cities where people are so used to seeing the homeless in the streets they step over them, ignore them, and don’t even notice they are there.
Frankly, we can do better than that. If any of us wanted to live in a city where people in need are so common no one sees them anymore, we would live there already. We live in Bangor, Maine because we want something different.
So let’s make something different.
Photo courtesy of C. Rudolph, 2012