I'm trying to pull myself out of my funk here, but I'm not making much progress. I just hate to see a community like this one waste its potential when it has so much.
A couple of things set this off. One is that yet again, there's a little buzz about government "consolidation." The governor says we have too many levels of government (which we do). And so politicians and editorial writers are suggesting that some of our little bitty separate governments find ways to "cooperate" – share services, maybe.
The impetus, of course, is to save money. Keep taxes from going up. And yes, New Yorkers do pay higher taxes than many people do. And that may indeed be due partly to the number of individual local governments we support.
But that's not the principal reason we're lagging behind many areas of the country. It's not the principal reason we should be talking about change. And our discussion should go way beyond sharing fire and police services. We could be a much stronger region if we actually consolidated: if we had some form of metropolitan government. A good start would be some kind of regional land-use and development planning.
If we weren't fighting with each other for development, if every municipality in the county shared the same tax base and service costs, Irondequoit wouldn't care whether Medley Centre got redeveloped. Instead, taxpayers in Irondequoit are desperate to have something happen there.
And in fact none of us – Irondequoit, Brighton, Greece, the City of Rochester – would be racing to give tax breaks to businesses to lure them or keep them. Instead, every municipality – and the County of Monroe – is trying to protect its rear. I don't blame them. Given the system they've been given, this is what they think they have to do.
We don't have to accept that system. But change would require a vision of something bigger. A real community vision.
We don't have that vision. And tragically, we have no leaders in government with that kind of vision. We have no vision at all.
And then there's the situation with Rochester schools. A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in a little windmill tilting, suggesting that every segment of the Rochester community ought to stop blaming everybody else for the Rochester school district's problems and should focus first on cleaning up their own house. That we first cast out the beam in our own eye, as the New Testament puts it, before we start worrying about the speck in our brother's eye.
That column got some reaction. But it was mostly just more of the same. More finger-pointing. The problem is the standardized tests! The problem is the superintendent! The problem is the union president! The problem is the families! The neighborhoods!
There is a connection, of course, between the crisis in Rochester's schools and the limited vision this region has for itself. We like our little separate towns and villages. We want our little separate governments. And boy, do we want our separate school districts.
We're comfortable with segregation. We're content to keep a heavy concentration of Rochester's poorest families bottled up inside city neighborhoods. We'll volunteer, support the United Way, and donate mittens and school supplies. But welcome lots of those families and their children into the suburbs? Not on your life.
Like a certain homegrown company I could name, we're comfortable doing what we've always done. That continues to work for many of us, for the moment. But if we stepped back and took a cold, hard look, we would see two things:
1) We're doing a lot of damage, to the poor in Rochester's Crescent neighborhoods and to thousands of children, whose potential we are blithely snuffing out.
2) As a region, we're headed down a path to economic and social disaster. Without strong, visionary leadership generating strong public will, we can't reverse course. And it's not hard to predict what lies ahead.
Detroit didn't become what it is today overnight.