It is not a good thing to be poor in Des Moines, Iowa. Poor as in working poor all the way to unemployed and broke. You see, there used to be some outlets for a guy who is bored but with not very much cash. You could go fishing along the river near downtown. Or walk some wooded trails along the river, taking in nature. There were some options for the not-so-rich and not-so-pretty folk, of whom there are a lot. Even if all you had was a broken-down jalopy or bus fare or a bike to get you to the river area – you still could enjoy the water and greenery.
But then at some point in time, the city fathers or powers that be decided they wanted a chic new sparkling riverfront. The first to suffer the consequences were the homeless people. All they wanted was to live simply, outdoors by the river. But the new trail-user class decided they were unsightly and had to go. All of a sudden, after around 150 years of being incorporated as a city, the powers that be insisted that the homeless pay “rent” or get out.
Oh sure, there is a splendid homeless shelter. You can make use of it if you reserve a bed by 6 PM, refrain from any use of alcohol and adhere to various other rules. (I'm sure the powers that be are not always refraining from alcohol use in their homes.) What they don't seem to understand is that for a certain subset of people, they cannot tolerate rules. They are not any kind of threat, but rather they want to make good the promise of living in “freedom.” Freedom to do what they want, even if it is destruction of their bodies through substance abuse. Who are others to tell them they cannot? They are adults, after all, making adult choices.
So the homeless were evicted from riverfront wooded areas. Then, the people who fish along both sides of the Des Moines River downtown were next to go. They left trash and dead fish, it was said. They were loud and obnoxious, it was said. We just can't have that next to our pristine walkers and joggers. So the fisher-people were forbidden to fish along the river. Another segment of the public was denied access to our river areas downtown.
Now, recently, they have removed the drive on the east side of the river as part of a beautification effort at the Botanical center. And barricaded portions of West River Drive. More areas of the river cut off from the simple folks. No, you have to own a dog and go to the dog park, or be a paying guest of the botanical center on the East side of the river. No longer can people drive to the riverfront to fish, or simply take a walk along the water and clear one's head. No, this is a new city now, a special city. Only the elite can go to areas formerly open to everyone.
I'm wondering when they will charge tolls to ride the bike trails, or do inspections of your bicycle to ensure it is up to the standards of some uptight committee. Inspect your person perhaps? We have become so risk-averse and panicky today, we cannot allow public access to our own 'wilderness' areas. This is an affront to the principles our nation was founded on, and an insult to the public who must pay taxes and obey rules, but is now denied the enjoyment of public areas. Bad moves, Des Moines.