It’s strange the amount of sidewalk-centric stories we’ve had in Smithers over the last few years. On one hand you have the sidewalk to nowhere, a hilarious testimony to the fractured and often short-sighted reality of the quintessential small-town municipal government.
Likewise more recently a story which has made waves in the past is making headlines once again, albeit for a slightly different reason.
That’s because at their June 9 meeting the Town voted to forgo the $5,200 (an estimate from the one bid they received) repainting of the rainbow crosswalk, instead opting to install Pride flags on both sides of Main Street at Second Avenue to the tune of $350.
Of course, neither of these stories are really about sidewalks.
While one gives a glimpse into the wild world of archaic and often contradictory legislation on a municipal level, the other represents a real grim truth:
That in the midst of a pandemic, $5,000 or so is too high of a price tag to reaffirm LGBTQ+ visibility in a small rural town in Northern B.C.
Money is an interesting thing. The majority of us are overly frivolous with it when we do have it and then actually overly frugal when we don’t, out of necessity.
Case in point: The Portland Loo.
Don’t get me wrong, bathroom security (or whatever you want to call it) is a big thing. People (especially those experiencing homelessness) need bathrooms.
But six figures? Y’all are crazy. By the time I have that much I’m going to be close to retiring to a self-sufficient homestead and living off residuals.
I bring this up only to illustrate that — as much as I don’t think town councils should be doing much other than arbitrating matters of aggression between private landowners — by approving the Portland Loo at a whopping six-figure price tag but giving the thumbs down to a bit of landscaping even yours truly could afford to finance, a very clear message is being sent.
Intentional or not, it comes across as the Town saying building a luxury bathroom in its (at the time) revisioned downtown is more of a priority than affirming the visibility of its LGBTQ+ community.
Again, both issues are important social conversations. One just costs a little over twenty-seven times more than the other (And that’s me being nice, seeing as though a total of $195,000 was budgeted toward the project to pay for things such as installation and exchange rates)
Bad, right? It’s even worse though.
That’s because the crosswalk budget would have covered all but $1,047 of the costs. Would the Town be a grand more in debt? Yes. But I would argue, considering all the stuff we’ve bought over the years, that dollar for dollar it would be going a lot further than many of the choices of councils past.
Of course, there’s an even simpler solution. A number of volunteers within the community have stepped up and said they would be interested in either donating their time or money into repainting. I have it on good authority there are enough willing hands and/or funds to get the job done.
Two immediate issues: some feel considering the social environment we’re in right now that Council should foot the bill as a sign of solidarity with its LGBTQ+ population. Likewise, there are concerns that giving approval to a group that has raised funds to do some sort of action opens the door and sets precedent to basically say “hey, if you can raise cash for X, we will approve it.”
I don’t fall into the former line of thinking, but I do follow the logic of the latter argument.
I think in a situation like this what is most important to remember is that Council was never really debating whether or not to approve the rainbow sidewalk. That conversation already happened years ago. They were debating whether or not they could afford to finance it this year.
So in the situation where volunteers can raise the cash and/or manpower necessary to self-finance the project, I say we let them. Anything less is just widening the goalposts.
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