The title of the post is answer #17 to the Question, “Why are your raising money to bring Downtown Streets Team to Santa Cruz?”
For the better part of a decade, I have had the great fortune of serving as the Executive Director of the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz. It is a role which I have grown in, I have learned a tremendous amount and I have ben lucky enough to work with very many amazing world class people.
I have said before that what I do is manage complexities without simplifying them, and I believe that description to be very accurate. Downtown’s have become a beautiful and fascinating experiment in the relationship and tension between public and private space.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Our Downtown, like any other, is the public center of town. It’s where everyone in the community is invited to come be and celebrate and protest and socialize and eat and shop and play. It is where our civic institutions are housed, where our cultural facilities thrive. Downtown is where almost every aspect of the community is challenged to coexist. withine these public functions of a downtown, there is a private sector that is an essential gravity to the community center. The private sector, the merchants and restaurants and banks and offices rely on the public activity to be well managed in order to function. It is worth asserting that these public functions are just as dependent on a healthy and thriving private sector.
“The Homeless” has been a label given to a wide array of disruptions to this symbiosis for years in urban centers and main street downtowns alike. Issues such as crimes, of all measure, panhandling, antisocial outbursts, messes from encampments and on and on have a tremendous impact on the health of a business district and literally tax the municipalities left to address these issues.
One solution to these issues is that of privatization. When businesses move out of downtowns into “Lifestyle Centers” or other private shopping districts, many of these challenges are instantly solved. Unlike our public downtowns, anyone can be escorted from a private development project for any, or no reason at all.
But that comes with a price.
In fact, that comes with several prices. The town square has always been an important part of democracy. the public place in the center of town where anyone is able to voice their stupid opinion. Free expression will not work in a privately controlled “town Square”. Sometimes free-expression is annoying, but it is no less vital.
Supporting the private businesses who remain in public centers, like our downtown is actually quite important to the sustainability of our public spaces and our public discourse. Without the center of commerce, downtown would not sustain. Public space and private space need each other to survive and to thrive. The tension between the two is a good tension that we must continue to manage.
Addressing the complex issues that the homeless epidemic brings to our city centers can not be solved simply by locking the gate, or by making it illegal to be poor. We need to continue to work on a complex patchwork of solutions. and we need to keep our downtown safe accessible for everyone.