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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 8, 2002

Fort St. Mall deserves 'bootstrapping' effort

If enough of the businesses that line Fort Street Mall agree, they will assess themselves, in essence, an extra tax to pay for better maintenance, security and landscaping.

What's not to like about such an effort?

The answer depends upon the way in which the effort attempts to deal with the human blight that colors the mall as part of the Chinatown environs. The mall has long attracted more than its share of homeless individuals and activities such as drug-dealing amid a bustling mix including students and retirees.

Yet the mall looks rather spiffy these days, with attractive flowering trees, artsy lamp-posts and water fountains, and faux-brick paving. The hope is to expand on this atmosphere to boost struggling businesses and attract a more upscale clientele to outdoor cafes and modish shops.

What must not happen is to allow this self-improvement effort to become an extension of the city's efforts to make homeless people somehow disappear, first by fencing A'ala Park and then through removing the park benches from Fort Street Mall.

Critics fear that the self-assessment district might be used to hire security guards to chase away "undesirables," which simply transfers the problem someplace else.

The truth is that only a patient, positive and direct effort to deal with the homeless can succeed in changing their habits and habitat. The right approach is to use our social safety net to reduce the numbers and improve the circumstances of the homeless.

Such a tolerant approach can create a relaxed, Bohemian atmosphere that in the end may be more attractive than an artificially induced Yuppydom.