By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
It was a thin white piece of metal in the shape of an octagon. It hung on its pole at a jaunty angle of almost 45 degrees, If one looked carefully, a faded “STOP” could be discerned. Being of a philosophical bent, I could not help but wonder-when does a stop sign cease being a stop sign? Were I to drive past and ignore it, could I claim that a faded white octagon was no longer sufficient cause to invoke the majesty of the law?
How common were these signs in such disrepair? My curiosity aroused, I drove around Natchitoches. My tour may have been through historic areas of our city, but it was not through any area frequented by tourists. Quite the contrary, the streets I traveled will never be on a tourism brochure. I was within a mile of Front Street, but a world away. In less than an hour, I found over 25 worn stop signs.
Patterns emerged. The signs in the historic district were pristine and free of any patina of age, as were the signs in the wealthier area of our city. Even in the poorer areas of town, the signs facing any street with high traffic were likewise new. The situation off the beaten path in the poorer areas of Natchitoches revealed a different picture. With few exceptions, this is where every damaged stop sign was located. Rust, corrosion and neglect abounded.
I want to be clear about something here. None of the signs were vandalized. None had holes, none were ripped down or stolen. The only one with graffiti was an anomalous one in a middle class street a block from my house that implored passing drivers to “Don’t STOP believing.”
It is not just the civic neglect evident in the faded, rusted metal, the worst potholes I have ever experienced inside the city limits shook my car as I drove on a side street less than a mile from the historic district.
This is not really about stop signs. It is about what message this sends to our fellow citizens who live in the neighborhoods where the vast majority of this neglect occurs. Our city and parish are rent by divisions of race and class. Our government should be proactive in doing everything possible to mend these rifts and should certainly do nothing to widen them. Legally and morally, Front Street, my middle class neighborhood and the poorest street in the poorest area of our city should be of equal priority in the provision of city services and the maintenance of our infrastructure. Make it so.