San Francisco’s Poop Problem

In this day and age it’s not hard to find an argument about the proper role of government in American society. Almost everyone agrees that government should have a significant role in public safety and national security, but even with those gimmes there’s significant disagreement about what that looks like. Throw in topics like education, public welfare, transportation, etc. and you’re going to get heated debate in any room with more than one person in it.

Still, with all that disagreement you’d think that any municipality in the country would have a pretty easy time getting its citizens behind the concept of doing whatever is necessary to keep people from pooping in public. The folks in San Francisco seem to be intent on making a mountain out of a pile of poo:

As a Mission kid, I have experienced days, even weeks, in a row when I’ve had to pull my eager dog away from steaming pancakes of human shit, or I’ve had to step over a sad, sick turd-smeared man passed out among sculpture-like piles of his own doo-doo mere feet from my doorway.However San Francisco’s poop problem isn’t confined to the streets of the Mission. Other neighborhoods ­– particularly SOMA, Mid-Market, and the Tenderloin ­– have a similar human-excrement predicament. Let’s face­­ it: if you live in the city, regardless of location or class affiliation, you’ve probably had your own encounter with the aftermath of a public number-two.

We live in a beautiful city that’s praised for its progressive values and the deeply set urban intellect of its residents. Why, then, do I find myself, on a daily basis, stepping around errant piles of fecal matter? In simpler terms, what’s with all the shit?…

It’s there for one reason, and one reason only: people needed to use the loo, and none was there for the using. And for the most part, these people are San Francisco’s massive homeless population.

There are more than 10,000 people living on the streets at any given time in our fair City by the Bay. San Francisco must be scrambling hand over foot to provide at least some semblance of a plan for their very apparent human needs. Right? Wrong.

Nice, huh? It’s not that the fair people of San Francisco aren’t thinking about the issue, but they’re having a heckuva time coming to a consensus about what to do:

Of course, like everything else in San Francisco, it turns out that potties have long been lashed to political debates. In a city that’s constantly reimagining itself, a restroom isn’t just a place to pee, after all. It’s part of a larger dialogue about who owns the public space. It’s a piece of architecture that’s at once public and intimate, where the landed gentry have to squat right alongside the city’s poor. “I think as you see a more stratified city, obviously the restrooms are gonna become more politicized,” former Supervisor Chris Daly says, remembering years of public-restroom football in City Hall.

For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city’s anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy. They’ve created fault lines and frenemies, they’ve cost untold millions of dollars. (The tab for this year’s renovation of a particularly infamous Portsmouth Square lavatory comes to $1.13 million). They’ve become porcelain tea leaves through which we can analyze the city’s development, and proxies for all of its battles. Scoff or turn away at the door, but it’s undeniable: Toilets have been markers for civilization since long before even the venerable coffee bar, and understanding the city now is just a flush away.

The problem is so bad that someone’s created a map of poop incidents and it has a “Report Poop” function.

So a note to all of our fine citizens here in the Piedmont Triad who interact with our municipal governments, whether it’s through volunteering to serve on various boards, committees and councils or appearing before those boards on behalf of themselves or clients and are often frustrated with the process – no matter how bad it gets just think of the folks in San Francisco and remember that things could be worse. Much worse.

International Flocculent Society

You may have heard about the Rob Lowe commercial for DirecTV in which “cool” Rob Lowe is a DirecTV subscriber and “painfully awkward” Rob Lowe is a cable subscriber. You may have also heard that the folks at the International Paruresis Association aren’t too happy that the commercials take aim at painfully awkward Lowe’s shy bladder issues. To them it’s okay to have a little fun with shy bladder syndrome, but they don’t like the idea of sufferers being equated to losers.

I was thinking of this when I saw the Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe commercial. Same format, but instead of being painfully awkward the cable TV Lowe is ridiculously hairy.

As someone who frightens small children at the pool if I haven’t been properly manscaped I have a slight issue with hairiness being equated to loser-dome, so I waited with great anticipation for whatever association represents hairy dudes to come out in my defense. That never happened. I can only surmise that no such organization exists. What a travesty! So I’ve decided that there’s an opportunity to get the word out that we hairy dudes aren’t losers – that in fact we’re positive contributors to our society. Thus, in the near future you’ll soon hear about a grand event – the creation of the International Flocculent Society (IFS).

The IFS will be dedicated to helping hairy men everywhere overcome the stigma that confronts us at every pool, hot tub, beach or shirts/skins basketball game. We’ll have a Hall of Fame – I’m thinking Tom Selleck could be our initial inductee – annual education conferences and a trade show. We should probably look into funding research for hair removal that doesn’t involve lasers, wax or chemicals since I’m sure many of us would jump at the chance to be denuded if for no other reason than we’re sick and tired of cleaning the damn shower after every use.

Whatever. It’s time for the well-haired of the world to be represented and I’m gonna do it!

The Power of Blogging for Associations

I work for a local trade association that is affiliated with a national association. A few times a year the national association hosts meetings at which all of its volunteer leaders get together to discuss the association’s business. Last week I attended one of those gatherings and sat through several committee meetings and general sessions, and at one of those sessions a staff member from the national organization excitedly described several new initiatives upon which they had embarked. Most of the announcements were good news for my organization and the other affiliates from around the country, but one was not so good – the service they were launching had the potential to compete with one of our services and have a negative impact on our income and to confuse our members/customers. I instantly messaged one of my counterparts from another affiliate to see if she felt the same way and she immediately replied with a strident YES!

This came to mind as I read the following excerpt from an article written by an association executive who is arguing that blogging is a powerful tool for associations:

As a member of several associations myself, I much prefer an association news stream that talks to me like a colleague and gives me updates on the good work (and sometimes risky experiments) that the association is doing to advance its mission and the industry it represents. The people closest to those projects should be reporting on them, not just describing the work they are doing, but the reasons certain decisions are made, and how they tie back to something that is of value to the members.

Blogging is a much better platform for this kind of communication. Using the traditional method, a staff person may work an entire year on launching a new product or service, and say nothing about it to the members until it’s ready to be sold to them. With blogging, the staff person can share information about the developing program throughout that year–its impetus, its initial framework, challenges it encounters along the way–all of it inviting and encouraging feedback that can be used to make it more attractive to members when it’s ready to launch.

As you might imagine I’ve always been a big fan of the blog as communication tool for an association, or any business for that matter. We’ve had one at our place for years, but until now I hadn’t really thought of the power of using it to communicate our “works in progress.” What a fantastic idea, if for no other reason than to avoid scenarios like the one I described above. Until now we’ve used our blog to cover industry news, share “members in the news” items and to promote some of our events, but I’m thinking we should use it to communicate some of our “skunk works” projects and, hopefully, get helpful feedback from our members.

Red Reality

Here in the United States our Republican friends woke up in a jubilant mood today after handing the Democrats their asses in yesterday’s election. Congrats to them, but here are a few thoughts about the state of American politics as we move forward:

  • If the Democrats have an ounce of sense, definitely not a given, they already have their campaign approach for 2016. Here it is: “The last three times the Republicans held both houses of Congress and the Presidency were the ’20s, a two year stretch in the ’50s and a couple of terms in the ’00s. Two of those three time periods ended in economic catastrophe for the country so it would be beneficial for the country if we didn’t give the folks in Red another chance to run is into the ditch.”
  • It will be interesting to see how the Senate functions now that the Republicans no longer have Harry Reid to kick around. They were quite good at obstructing, but can they lead? We’ll soon find out.
  • If you want a sneak peak into how the Republicans might behave in Washington the next couple of years just take a look at how the NC Republicans have behaved the last couple of years. Fissures in the party, particularly between social and business conservatives, will likely reveal themselves at some point next year.
  • Last and biggest point – this election has only reinforced my belief that we truly could benefit from a legitimate third party in this country. By introducing a third major player to the political mix we’d finally have a mechanism to force our leaders into actual policy making. Why? Because if a third party has enough votes then either of the other parties has to negotiate with them to get anything done. You could argue that the same should happen in the two-party system, but as we’ve seen that’s not the case because the minority party can be intransigent since there’s no alternative for the majority, or the majority can steamroll the minority if they have the votes. With a third party the dynamic shifts; no party can take their position for granted and they are pretty much forced to negotiate to get their policies through.

Yep, I’m still a pie-eyed optimist.