I've said this before, but the A2 city council meeting last night, well-documented by the politically active twitter denizens of the city, has brought it to my attention yet again.
There's nothing wrong with wanting a park to be safe. I enjoy safety. I'm actually a bit of a worry-wort, so I try to avoid scary situations. And of course, a city government has a responsibility to keep its public spaces high-quality and secure.
It's the way the conversation about Liberty Plaza goes that gets my goat. As reported by the Ann Arbor News, it's a place where "homeless people congregate." Oh, God forbid that homeless people exist in Ann Arbor,
and especially that those without private space congregate in one of the only public spaces downtown. With the tone implied in that sentence, they may as well have reported that it was known as a place where rats and cockroaches congregate.
These are people. They are members of our community. Make it safer, sure, but intend to make it safer for them as well. Crime is a problem, but not all the folks hanging out in Liberty Plaza pull box-cutters on their neighbors. In fact, when I eat lunch there I see people playing chess, talking with their friends, distributing and eating pie, and occasionally commenting on how cute my boyfriend and I are (and let's face it, we are pretty darn cute).
My worry is that for Ann Arborites, a safe Liberty Plaza doesn't mean "a place where no one gets hurt" but rather "a place where nobody who looks scary hangs out." Sonic Lunch is fun, no doubt, but Sonic Lunch clears out all the poor, homeless folks and replaces them with yuppies on their lunch break and wholesome families. It kind of has the feel of a military campaign - the real citizens of Ann Arbor brazenly taking back what they believe to be theirs. And where do the former group go? I don't know - the library, campus, Wheeler park, various coffee shops. People are not an infestation you can take care of. People always have to go somewhere.
So, leaders and concerned citizens of Ann Arbor, if you don't want to see homeless people, you have to give them homes. Period. Redesigning Liberty Plaza might be a palliative fix, but the price our community pays for not taking care of everyone's needs will remain. You could start by facilitating the establishment of MISSION's Stone School house, a an effort from the same leadership as Camp Take Notice that would provide homeless people with a self-governed, safe, and structured community. You could take on more responsibility for affordable and transitional housing because you have the resources, rather than complaining about neighboring communities' "fair shares." You could stop the police from evicting the temporary campsites of people who just don't have any other place to go.