Uptown's new signs

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Any of you been to other cities? Yes, I'm sure most of you have.

Question: In any of those other cities did they have goofy directional signs like the ones currently being installed in Uptown?

Another question: How many of you use a GPS device, whether on your phone or in your car?

One more: Before today, did you have trouble finding your way around Uptown?

Our postage stamp-size downtown district (aka Uptown) can be a little confusing. There are several one-way streets. There's a lot of hustle and bustle and tall sight-blocking buildings. Even Interstate 277 can turn you around if you're not used to its U-shape. Fortunately, Uptown is so tiny it only takes a few seconds to get back on course. If all else fails, you can park and walk.

But, before I go any further, let me ask you one more question: Even though you might get a little turned around in Uptown on occasion, what would you prefer? Services — like public schools and libraries — or color-coded signs to help you navigate Uptown's streets?

I ask because the city's new "urban way-finding system" cost $4.1 million dollars. (The money is a combination of a grant and cash from the Capital Investment Plan fund.) That probably didn't sound expensive in 2006, but today it sounds outrageous.

This project, by the way, is as much about re-branding the wards as it is about helping you find your way. It is also supposedly about reducing congestion and pollution. All of those are noble-enough sounding reasons. I'm sure they made perfect sense four years ago.

Today, we can imagine city leaders defending the signs by saying that money couldn't be used for libraries or schools because it wasn't allocated for them. We can also imagine they'll say that the city has had a contractual obligation for years to install the signs.

Yeah.

Now, I ask you: Look at your budget or your checkbook or your online bank account. If you have $100 to spend on your bills and you owe $150, will you prioritize painting your bathroom or keeping your water flowing? What would Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities say to you if you said, "Sorry, can't pay my water bill this month. I only have $100 and that money's been allocated to paint for my bathroom. In fact, I've already bought the paint."

You think that would fly? No, probably not.

So, why do similar excuses fly when they come from bureaucrats? The idea that our city leaders are paralyzed when it comes to fiscal decision making is getting old, I think.

The sign idea was a good-enough idea for 2006, but now we're in 2010 and large numbers of Charlotteans are unemployed, services are being slashed, teachers are being fired ... you know the story. It's the Great Recession. Things are tight. Our city leaders need to be able to put a hold on — or stop — unnecessary projects we can no longer afford. On the surface, it looks wasteful and self-indulgent.

OK, I realize I'm complaining too late. The appropriate place to complain would have been city hall when said leaders were making the decision to fund this project and the appropriate time would have been the day this topic was brought up in one of their meetings.

Let this be a lesson to us all. Pay attention. That's our money their spending. These are our streets. That's our Uptown district. We do have a say, but if we're not paying attention all kinds of goofy shit can slip by.

If you can't make it to public meetings, you can often watch them on TV (Government Channel 16 on Time Warner Cable) or online. You can even follow updates from the meetings on Twtter (#cltcc for Charlotte city council meetings and #meckbocc for county council meetings).

For more information on city council meetings, and to read the minutes from past meetings, click here and for Mecklenburg county council meetings click here.

I'll be straight with you: All too often the only people in the audience at public meetings are members of the media. In fact, as a member of the media, there have been several meetings where I was the only person there besides the public officials holding whatever meeting I was attending at the time.

Drop your excuses. Get involved. Otherwise, don't complain.

The end.

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