Opinion » Note

Legislating Livability

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By the time this publishes, nearly all my worldly goods will be boxed and waiting to be stuffed in a moving truck, bound for Boise. The next Note I write will be from my office at Boise Weekly headquarters--some 400 miles from where I now sit: a place of lakes and forests, where my wife, 1-year-old son and I can jaunt up to Canada for dinner.

Though I was born and raised in Sandpoint, my small family's move to the Treasure Valley (where my wife and I met at then-Albertson College of Idaho in 1999) is a homecoming that we've been looking forward to for months.

Being a resort town with more than its share of urban refugees, we've been offered heaps of advice from well-meaning Sandpoint friends on "how to raise your kid in a city." The implication being that it's better not to. I'm inclined to agree, generally, but can't think of a city where I'd rather raise my son than Boise.

But, as BW News Editor George Prentice reports on Page 7, there's an apparent scourge of panhandling in Boise--a problem so dire that it requires not one, but three ordinances aimed at curtailing sidewalk solicitation and loitering.

Well-meaning as these measures may be, aimed at making the streets safe for businesses and (presumably) families like mine, it's hard to imagine Boise as a hotbed of aggressive panhandling. Thinking back on it, the only in-your-face panhandling experience I can recall happened sometime in 2001, when I was approached four times by the same man.

He was more "creative" than "aggressive." Each time our paths crossed, he would begin with: "Hey, brother, I'm in a bad way..." In the first instance, he followed with a tale of woe about his time on a fishing boat in Alaska, sending money to his lady, but when he got back to port, she'd run off with his best friend. Each time we met, his job and the name of his lady changed but the moral remained the same: "Don't marry a woman named (fill in the blank)."

I'm sure that not all panhandling experiences are as rich in narrative as that one, and I think we can all agree that it's a tragedy when anyone finds themselves resorting to asking strangers for money on the street. That's why this problem requires a human solution, rather than a legal one that will almost surely cost more money and cause more hardship than it's worth. "Livability" seems to be Boise's mantra--and it is indeed fantastically livable--but we should be careful that it doesn't become a cult requiring laws to enforce it.

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