I appreciated reading Renee Ordway’s column in yesterday’s BDN about Pickering Square. I share her love for our city and, as I’ve stated in previous blogs, concerns about the safety of our downtown area. I appreciated her echoing my own concerns in a recent post that moving folks out of Pickering Square is not solving the problem but is simply relocating it. While I do not believe that the height of the problems occur in the middle of a weekday in broad daylight, I do respect her attempt to look at the issues close up. Any focus we have on this topic keeps the issues fresh in everyone’s mind and helps us to continue having important conversations about what the next steps for our community should be!
However, I feel I must remind my peers (us middle-aged and old folks) not to get too caught up in the fact that some of the people who hang out downtown are TEENAGERS! I, too, was once a teenager who hung out in parks in the town I grew up in. We were really no different from lots of people in our town who looked for a place to gather where there were people to talk to, a cool breeze and maybe something exciting going on (like music or movies?)! I was known to occasionally throw around a swear word and may still do so today if the mood is right. It did not keep me from going on to live a full and productive adult life. I have also raised teenagers in this city and despite bouts of hanging out in parks, wearing weird clothes and saying bad words, they are all good, decent hard-working adults.
I never smoked, but I had friends and family who did, and still do, and I don’t find them any more evil than other people I know based simply on their smoking habit. It bothers me that people are dismissed and discriminated against so often based simply on the fact that they are smokers. I am not pro-smoking by any means. I held my father’s hand as he lay dying from lung cancer and I continuously give two of my adult children who smoke lots of grief. I am, however, pro-adults-making-their-own-decisions! While bad for you, it is not any more harmful than the overweight diabetic who is eating a hamburger, fries and shake in public and we don’t ban that! I’m sure among all of us, there are lots of other bad choices made besides smoking, we just don’t know about them all and frankly, they are none of our business.
My point is we’ve got some real issues going on in this city, like in any city, and we need to stop focusing on foolishness and look at the big stuff! While we are complaining about smoking and swearing downtown other people are dealing with long-term unemployment, drug addiction, poverty, domestic violence, lack of health insurance, homelessness, lack of access to affordable education and actual crime, to name a few. Let’s get real people!
There’s also some really great stuff going on in this city and much of the energy we’re spending on talking about banning smoking and writing tickets for bad behavior would be better focused on bringing more positive activities to the young people in our area.
I think we need to remember not to judge our fellow citizens based on their appearances. What really gives me a “sense of unease” is labeling people good or bad based on their age, or how we think they should look. We can’t assume the teenagers in the square are all up to something no good because they are young and we can’t assume the old man with the oxygen tank is a somehow a better human being just because he’s old!
Let’s remember that we’ve been fooled before by those among us who we thought were respectable based on age and appearances. We have been fooled by those among us who have worn the clothes of a trusted clergyman, but who in the end were more dangerous than anyone hanging out in a park downtown with tattoos or piercings or baggy pants.
Let’s continue to have real, honest conversations about how to make our city better for ourselves, for the old folks, for our children and for all the children that belong to this city. Let us also remember, however, that not all the children in this city have had the same opportunities. Not all of the children in this city have grown up in loving homes with parents who supported them and their dreams. Some of the young people who hang out downtown were once the children who were dismissed by adults in school based on the way they looked, or the family they came from. Let’s not make the mistake of dismissing them again without first trying to engage them in the community, without first trying to find out how we might be able to make things better.
Let’s remember that a community where all members feel valued and wanted, where all members feel they matter and that they have a say; is a more vibrant, healthy community! Let’s value and respect the diversity of our citizens and use it to make the city we live in a creative, wonderful place.
We were those young people once, but now we have become “them,” the adults we used to be so suspicious of. Let’s not lose sight of ourselves when were young. Let’s try to have understanding for the generation behind us, struggling with challenges that are different than ours, challenges we may not be able to understand. I think we can become a different kind of older generation. Let’s not be the people who say things like “kids these days!” Instead, let’s be the older people that, while acknowledging generational differences, are able to keep the lines of communication open for everyone’s benefit.
Honestly, I’m tired of hearing about “those kids” that are hanging out downtown and I’m tired of the same picture attached to every article. So, I’ve included my own picture of suspicious activity in Pickering Square (a Cool Sounds Concert). Come on folks, let’s not be “those” old people!