Each month, I write a column for Transistor (http://www.transistormag.com) called CTRL+ALT+DULUTH. (Yes, it plays on the "duh-LOOT" pronunciation.) Below is the text from last week's issue:
The following is an open letter to the East Hillside Arsonist, who police recently apprehended in connection with a second string of fires.
You are not a failure.
Now, I know that may be hard for you to believe right now: Facing arson charges while on probation for a previous arson conviction. Trying to scrape up $100,000 in bail when you didn’t even have shoes to wear to your last, er, engagement (thus enabling the police K-9 unit to track you with ease). Wracking your brain for what you might have done to prompt your own grandmother to rat you out on a false 911 call the police say you made. It’s enough to make a less focused and dedicated individual throw in the towel.
Well, I am writing with some words of encouragement:
Don’t give up.
Not when so many abandoned houses, dilapidated garages and beater cars in town so desperately require your attention.
You see, the city has it all wrong. They seem to think that all of the blighted properties on the Hillside - you know, the ones behind the hospitals and along all of the one-way streets – will somehow clear and/or rehabilitate themselves. They think that putting a little pressure on slumlords through some watered-down ordinances and shadowing select convicted felons 24/7 will be enough to nudge these neighborhoods toward the kind of renaissance that has rescued large swaths of cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
They call this phenomenon “re-gentrification,” but you need a gentry, or moneyed class, for this to work. For a gentry, you need lots of good-paying jobs for young professionals. (See my column in this publication from the week of 10/13/08 for how many of those types of jobs you can find around here.)
For this reason, the city sees people like you – people who could clear many of these problem lots in mere minutes just by doing something they love to do – as enemies, instead of potential partners in renewing what in most other cities would be the most valuable real estate in town. They accuse you of having “little to no regard for public safety” and lock you up when they should be trying to lock in some dates on your calendar.
Yes, it’s frustrating when people fail to see the value of your talents. However, it’s a cross that all of us must bear in some form or other.
So, as you reflect on your fate in the years (and it probably will be years this time, as opposed to months) to come and evaluate your future options, please remember that there are structures here in Duluth that still need you.
In fact, I am thinking of one in particular: a garage, on the alley between 8th and 9th streets. It’s got fraying siding, peeling paint and a door so threadbare that you can just about see right through it. Who knows – there may even be a pair of running shoes in there for you. Size 11, right?