Spring -- we are told -- arrived in these parts three weeks ago, and the clock proved it by springing forward last weekend. This is a period for joyousness -- look at those courageous snowdrops and crocuses pushing through -- and to allow spring's tendency to masquerade and slap us around with not-so-gentle reminders of winter’s fury.
The season contains so much promise and joy -- Easter and Passover, an exceptional Good Friday concert at Chalmers United and Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" at the Grand, not to mention March Madness and opening day. So why the humbug?
For one thing, the city and its adversaries fiddle on about the LVEC while other items of equal importance burn--antiquated sewers, lax security in the night spots, insufficient low-cost housing, Princess Street’s demise, the fate of the Memorial Centre and its brown grounds, a far-better-than-average crop of potholes, and the annual detritus of the season past -- the effluence of affluence and the offal of Kingston’s plethora of fast-food emporiums, concealed and congealed for a couple of months by snow and ice, now exposed in all its splendour.
So city beautifiers and car owners have a beef. The former would take a giant step by grabbing a green bag and doing it themselves. For this city appears feckless in its failure to enforce bylaws dealing with litter. Indeed, its late-night sidewalk sweepers sometimes veer into the rough, leaving lawns with divots and the walkways worse than before cleaning. We all know that Queen’s students and their landlords are congenitally unable (or too busy) to pick anything up in front of their residences; and poor recycling habits generally leave paper and plastic, everywhere, fluttering for 24 hours after morning pickup.
Given our liberty to litter, Kingston will never sparkle like Singapore or approach flawless Hong Kong. Lest we despair, however, there are a couple of solutions. The first, far-fetched, would be to summon the Wizard of Wartville, the hero of a children’s story about a city like Kingston, beginning to drown in crud. The wizard was summoned because he possessed special power -- he could cause anything thrown on the ground to jump back up and stick to the offender’s body, car, or whatever. This, of course, would be a fine resolution.
The other approach is a form of poster vigilantism -- pointed and humorous -- whereby citizens of this vale of cigarette butts, pizza containers, plastic bags, and worse may illuminate the domicile of laggards with simple signs, preferably on chartreuse paper, taped to a door or window, or merely left on a stoop:
The point here is to be creative and to make your sign clear and friendly -- a regular sheet of paper will do. Do not claim to represent the city of Kingston (false advertising). Be as creative as you wish, and more often than not, the strategy will work. Civic-mindedness may slumber here, but it is not dead.
As for the potholes, this has been a particularly hard winter, with many days characterized by the demon of freeze-and-thaw. Queen’s excellent faculty of civil engineering notwithstanding, many local thoroughfares appear to have been bombed.
Here, too, creativity may work. In 1997, Earl Street between Clergy and Bagot was a perfect mess of potholes and ravines, including a water hazard and a rotten tree at 118 Earl. So as a gesture toward civic betterment, with a cable TV show to highlight the event, I played golf on Earl Street.
Aided by my caddy, I teed off from the grassy knoll east of Chalmers United, headed downhill, no dog-legs left or right, toward Bagot. I got there after taking five nine-iron shots and a couple of long putts for a seven. A triple-bogey I was told. But a year later, the city rewarded Earl Street with a spanking new asphalt cover. Now cars did not have to find their way, tortuously, through all the compass points while traversing that desolate route.
Yes, cars now zoom up and down Earl, shortening to a few seconds a journey that once took weeks. Many cars do not even stop at the arterials, favouring the rolling stop that is becoming the signature of drivers everywhere.
We should think about the positive aspect of potholes. They serve several purposes, not least the slowing of potentially lethal weapons.
Geoff Smith, latter-day Wizard of Wartville, drives very slowly on Brock headed west, and on Mowat headed any which way.
This article appeared in the Kingston Whig-Standard in April, 2005.