Tahlequah Daily Press

August 5, 2013

It’s time to clean up Tahlequah


TAHLEQUAH — Everyone who lives in Tahlequah looks at the community through a certain lens. We like our little corner of the world, tucked into the foothills of the Ozarks, with our lakes and scenic river displayed as the crown jewels.

Sometimes, we may even view the landscape through rose-colored glasses. We don’t see ourselves as visitors and potential new residents might see us. And therein lies the problem.

In this day and age, attracting new people and businesses is critical for any town. Merely surviving isn’t enough anymore; the goal must be to thrive. Usually that means actual growth, but it can also mean evolution to keep pace with a changing society. Either way, though, revenue will be a key factor.

None of us can deny the existence of several eyesores within the city limits that detract from the area’s natural beauty. Among the worst offenders are the abandoned buildings, which their owners have not seen fit to demolish or refurbish. In other places, weeds protrude through cracked and vacant foundations. Signs advertising businesses that haven’t existed in years still stand defiantly in place, deteriorating with each passing season. In the summer, grass grows several feet tall around certain businesses, until a disgusted neighbor finally mows it himself.

If you’re an up-and-coming business owner looking to relocate to a city, how would you react to the sight of a burned-out shack down the block from a property you’re considering? What newcomer would buy a home next to a house with peeling paint and an overgrown yard that hosts a perpetual tick and flea convention? A parent of a potential NSU student might approve heartily of the beautiful campus, but wouldn’t she be turned off by a yard a few blocks away stacked with rusting vehicles and other junk?

It’s not just a matter of keeping up with appearances; it’s also a safety concern. Empty buildings can harbor dangerous pests, which in time can infest an entire neighborhood. Rusty nails, broken glass and other hazards – like poisonous snakes – can spell disaster if a curious child wanders into the structure.

How can this happen? Doesn’t anyone care? In some cases, the property owners may be short on funds to take any action. In others, however, money’s no object, but the owners are prominent citizens or members of families with deep roots in this area, and they feel they can do as they please, with no fear of consequences.

It’s time we held the feet of these folks to the fire.

There are ordinances in place to curtail such problems, but if they’re not  enforced, they are of little use. And they need to be enforced consistently and across the board, without favoritism or prejudice. That means if a property owner doesn’t take action within a reasonable amount of time, the city should slap him or her with a hefty fine – one an attorney or judge can’t help him weasel out of.

When it comes to communities, the same standard applies as it does to our own persons: If we don’t care how we look, no one else will, either. And if we “stink” – literally or figuratively – no one will want to be around us.

Tahlequah sells itself as a community that welcomes visitors and newcomers – one that relies heavily on its tourism industry, and an influx of students to the NSU campus. But being friendly and showcasing our best features isn’t enough. We must all do our part to make our city attractive to those who may want to become one of us – and to keep our kids from leaving in droves when they become  adults.

There’s only one antonym for thriving, and it’s not one we want to apply to Tahlequah. Let’s shape up, before anyone ships out.