MAPLEWOOD is a particularly lovely and convenient place to live, especially the original and older portion. Nice housing on large lots amid old-growth hardwoods, quiet and yet only a couple of minutes from downtown Rome by car — even within walking distance for those with strong limbs and so inclined.
That City Commissioner Buzz Wachsteter would love it, particularly since he calls it home, and would wish such comfortable serenity on all his constituents, is perfectly understandable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could live in a place that suited us just fine and our only worry in the world was when to rake the leaves?
Oh, wait ... the growing numbers living in the downtown don’t even have to worry about that last one.
Indeed, for many such folks, Wachsteter’s recently expressed vision of making downtown a more suitable dwelling place for children (playgrounds) and dogs (more grass on which to poop) would be a nightmarish intrusion upon their own leafless retreat from the world.
The commissioner’s comments came during a discussion pursuing how to further the residential presence in Rome’s quite remarkable historic downtown — remarkable because the city still has a downtown, it is rather vibrant and is the true core of human activity in the area (along with government services). That growing numbers, by their own free choice, actually want to live there — and not just as renters, either — is the cherry on top.
A RATHER remarkable number of apartments/condos have already been developed and occupied above those Broad Street and side avenue storefronts but loads of vacant, unused upper-story space remains. The Downtown Development Authority has quite properly made such residential redevelopment one of its priorities.
That’s a most valuable and important discussion, one that City Commission and other governmental entities should support and assist to all extent possible.
“We need to sit down from a planning aspect with the [authority] and talk about quality of life downtown,” said Wachsteter. “The people that live downtown are actually looking for the same quality of life that people in Maplewood, where I live, want.”
Assuming such is really true, then this would cut two ways. The people in Maplewood must want some of the unique quality-of-life characteristics that those residing downtown have. Perhaps Wachsteter should press for zoning changes so that Maplewood residents can have next-door sports bars, restaurants, boutiques and tattoo parlors like those living downtown do.
Wachsteter seems caught up in some sort of utopian vision where all have the same basic sort of life guaranteed by governmental regulation and amenities (some would brand this socialism, but let’s grant the commissioner just really, really loves his own lifestyle and wants to share his happiness).
THERE’S A PROBLEM, though. Government has no role — zero — in the social/lifestyle realm, something neither Democrats or Republicans are very good at understanding (and pretty much everybody in elected office is one or the other). Indeed, just consider what has become one of this nation’s core mantras and widely accepted outside of politics: Different strokes for different folks.
Wachsteter is certainly familiar with the saying, which actually came into general use when he was a lad and all things “tolerant” broke the back of the olden-day post-Victorian way of life as the twin juggernauts of the anti-war and civil-rights movements, marching to the beat of rock 'n' roll, changed our society.
While “different strokes for different folks” had been in use long before — it is believed of Southern, black and possibly sexual origin (just as “jazz” was) — it was the mass-media use of it by Cassius Clay (boxing champ Muhammad Ali) and then Sly & The Family Stone (remember “Everyday People”?) followed by the long-running hit TV series “Different Strokes” (about a white millionaire adopting two black boys) that taught a majority of Americans what it meant — and their generally agreeing with the sentiment expressed.
IT’S OUR differences that make the world interesting, not our similarities. Indeed, in a “melting pot” society having a deli and a hamburger joint on the same block, or old/young folks in residence, or different religions and races is what defines “being American.” So does the ability to individually opt for living in a green subdivision or amidst concrete and brick, in a stand-alone house or an apartment/condo ... even a mobile home. And, of course, never having to deal with the traits of the lifestyle choices not found desirable.
Most of those now living downtown are more likely to gripe about not being able to buy a quart of milk without first getting in a car, not about missing noisy children and barking dogs.
Maplewood residents, one expects, are most thankful for not having traffic noises, strangers streaming past — and the constant presence of governmental functionaries underfoot who want to make a place they have to visit daily (for work) more like what they prefer their homes (where they sleep) to be. No better way to ruin a home than to have the guests telling you how to run it.
Nonetheless, this discussion on how to help the downtown become all that it can be — for residents as well as visitors — is both overdue and could have quite an impact if properly channeled.
IT’S DUBIOUS if many dwelling downtown, including “empty nesters” and all there by paying considerable money to do so, want to raise kids there. No schools anywhere nearby, for one thing. If they want dogs then, if anything, the city needs a “pooper scooper” ordinance downtown and a ban on the critters doing their business on the Town Green.
However, when it comes to things the downtown could use to make it more inviting and attractive as a place to live — and being better able to afford investing in converting those lofts into bedrooms — then boy-oh-boy are there a bunch of things that Broad Street and environs could use.
Next: How to remodel Broad Street into a home place.