One of my favorite games is If I Were Mayor. It has one player: me. Naturally, it’s lots of fun — because I always win.
But then, you can play, too.
The rules are simple: You are the mayor and supreme ruler of your city or town. (If you’re a county resident, you get to be mayor of the nearest town. Or just pick your favorite local municipality: Asheville, Woodfin, Weaverville, Mars Hill, Marshall, Hendersonville, Waynesville, Canton, Black Mountain — whichever you like. It really doesn’t matter.) Your subjects are adoring and fanatically loyal, so they obey your every whim without question. You get to set all policies — including the structure of government, the laws of the city, the legal and enforcement systems, and so forth. What’s more, your domain extends beyond the city into the surrounding county, where you can also do anything you like. It’s all up to you.
Of course, this is far more power than any real mayor has. But so what? It’s only a game.
OK, it’s your turn. Go!
“Oh,” you say, “but I’ve never run a city. I don’t have any experience in this sort of thing. I’ve never given it any thought. I would have no idea what to do.”
Well, if you won’t play, then I will. Here goes!
I pick Asheville, since it’s not far from me. And if my rules are not to your liking, feel free to take over the city and run it any way you wish.
(I want to make it clear before I begin that this is in no way a criticism of Mayor Sitnick. She is doing an excellent job, considering the real-world constraints of the position.)
• Rule 1: Anyone caught littering will immediately be sentenced to spend one whole day picking up litter. Repeat offenders will be sentenced to one week.
• Rule 2: Asheville is hereby declared a nonsmoking city. Smoking is banned in all parks, public buildings, private companies and restaurants.
• Rule 3: An Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) will be placed around the perimeter of Asheville. All new construction must take place within this boundary. The purpose of the UGB is to encourage compact, planned development instead of the urban sprawl we’re now experiencing. Of course, this means that all annexation plans are canceled.
• Rule 4: The entire downtown area will become a car-free zone. This includes everything south of Interstate 240, west of Charlotte Street, and north of Hilliard Avenue. Pedestrians will be able to stroll and shop in peace, unimpeded by traffic, noise and exhaust.
• Rule 5: To facilitate Rule 4, the Asheville Transit Authority’s service will be greatly expanded. Buses will run every five minutes, and new routes will be added throughout the city, offering stops within five minutes’ walk of anywhere.
• Rule 6: All city employees will be given a copy of the computer-simulation program SimCity (wherein participants can “build” their own city, down to the tiniest detail). They will be offered training in the use of the program, and encouraged to use it frequently. Suggestions based on running the program will be the topic of regular monthly meetings.
• Rule 7: All major new and pending infrastructure projects are hereby canceled. This includes the I-26 connector. Such projects may be reconsidered only after all existing infrastructure — including our aging water system — is repaired and updated.
• Rule 8: The primary consideration in matters of economic development will be: How green is it? This refers not to the usual green of corporate dollars, but to the color of our mountains, lakes and skies. In other words, will a new business be environmentally benign? Will it generate minimal pollution? Will it be sustainable, long-term?
• Rule 9: Cruelty to animals is strictly prohibited. This specifically includes hunting, which is deemed to be a barbaric act better suited to troglodytes. Farm animals may be kept for the production of milk, eggs, honey and the like — but only if treated humanely. All domestic animals must be provided with sufficient food and water, and space to exercise. Vegetarianism will be strongly encouraged.
• Rule 10: All pesticides are banned. There will be absolutely no exceptions.
OK, that’s it. Nothing you couldn’t sneak past the Asheville City Council, if you got them drunk enough.
Stupid rules, you say? Crazy, naive, irresponsible — and unworkable, to boot?
Well, maybe not. In fact, many of these ideas are already being successfully employed in cities across the country. Portland, Ore. — consistently rated as one of the most desirable cities in the country — has boasted a UGB since 1974. Eighteen cities in California have UGBs. And Orlando, Miami and several other Florida cities have recently implemented UGBs, as part of their Sustainable Communities Designation Agreement.
Regarding bans on cars and smoking: Many cities — including Boston, Aspen, Sacramento, Burlington and Boulder — contain streets where vehicular traffic is not allowed. And hundreds of cities have imposed smoking bans in public buildings. The town of Sharon, Mass., has been declared entirely smoke-free. Even whole states have banned smoking in public venues — including Vermont, California, Maryland and Utah.
Yes, I know. That’s fine for them, you say, but it would never work here. Asheville is a unique city, with its mountainous terrain and rich agricultural history. We have ways of doing things here that work just fine for us.
OK, you’re right. I yield.