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Cities Matter – From the Front Door to the Car Door

Recently, the City Manager sent me a link to the video, Cities Matter – From the Front Door to the Car Door. Sentimental? Perhaps. I wasn’t familiar with the site on which the video is posted, 12Seconds.tv, but it is apparently to video as Twitter is to texting; it is a video platform that will help you keep up to date with your friends 12 seconds at a time. According to the site, scientists have determined that 12 seconds is the amount of time it takes for boredom or apathy to set in during typical Internet video viewing.

Cities Matter got me to thinking about the city I work for: Boynton Beach, Florida. I not only work for the City but I live there, too, so I have a stake in it just like every other citizen. I turn on the tap and some of the freshest, cleanest water in the country flows from it. It’s carried away by a state-of-the-art drainage system. If something goes wrong, I know I can call the Utilities Department and they’ll fix it. I really don’t think much about it

I put out my garbage twice a week – if I have enough of it – and recyclables once a week. As if by magic, they both disappear from the curb, often before I’m out of bed in the morning. I don’t think much about this either; it just happens. If for some reason they’ve overlooked me, I know I can call the Public Works Department and they’ll send someone to pick it up. I take these services for granted as probably most of us do, because I live in Boynton Beach and the City takes care of these things.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Romania. Bucharest is an interesting city. I stayed in an apartment in a Soviet-era apartment block, which in real life looks like any picture you have ever seen of them – tall, gray, impersonal, with chunks of concrete falling out of the buildings’ exterior walls. One morning, there was no cold water. It was impossible to bathe, wash dishes or even flush the toilet. Since I don’t speak or understand Romanian, I contacted George, the rental agent, and asked him to call the water department. There was a pause on the line followed by a sharp intake of breath. Then George said, “In Romania, we don’t call the water department.” Flabbergasted, I asked, “Oh, what do we do in Romania?” This was the first of many times I would ask that question during my stay in the country. He replied, “We wait to read about it in the newspaper and what they’re going to do.” I was stunned but shouldn’t have been surprised; that’s what more than 40 years of repression and living in fear of the government can do to people. As it turned out, the water was restored by that evening. There was some road construction in the neighborhood and I suspect the crew struck a pipe. In Boynton Beach, none of us would have hesitated to call the water department, right up to the director, or even our elected officials.

Some other things I take for granted are the Senior Center and the many programs available through the Recreation and Parks Department. I haven’t had occassion to use the Senior Center and I don’t have young children that I need to place in an after school program. But I’m glad to know that these resources are available to anyone who may need them.

There are many more examples of why cities matter. In addition to essential services, such as public safety, cities provide services that help contribute to the quality of life in the community. Not only do I get to enjoy these services but I’m also priviledged to know first hand many of the people who provide them. I can still vividly recall during Hurricane Jeanne a now retired Utilities employee who sat up through the night to ensure that we did not lose our water. Again, through hurricanes Frances and Wilma, Boynton Beach was the only municipality in the area to maintain the integrity of its water system. Following the hurricanes, crews from Public Works rapidly deployed to pick up the debris. I know many of the Parks Maintenance employees who strive to keep our city parks in tip-top condition for everyone’s pleasure and enjoyment. Work goes on in other “behind the scenes” departments of the City, too, that makes a real difference in the lives of everyone who lives, works, plays and learns in Boynton Beach.

Participants in the current semester of our City Services Institute are learning firsthand how their city matters. Each week they are presented with information about the City that gives them a greater understanding of how the City works and enables them to become more fully involved in the community. The feedback from these sessions is quite positive and usually elicits from at least one student an “I did not know that.” I hope that more people will take advantage of this learning opportunity.

The Florida League of Cities recently initiated its “Quality of Life Campaign,” which features 30 second public service announcements highlighting various services provided by cities to their residents. The videos are slick and very well done. One of them is currently running on the City’s own television station along with City-produced PSAs urging people to participate in the 2010 Census and to be sure to vote in an upcoming general election. But I think the woman who made Cities Matter captured the essence of all of this in 12 short seconds – Cities really do matter.

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