Thursday, February 28, 2008

The no ho zone

Let's visit Come-ons from the whores on Seventh Avenue again. (I'm still fishing for a compliment on my clever use of a song lyric to reference the Seventh Avenue garment district in New York)

It looks like the parade has passed by. The working girls are still here, they're just not here. No more primping, posing and pacing up and down under my nose. Except when a ship is in, you see them going somewhere else. Some have become regular customers. I'm not real pleased with the guy hustling dirty movies a block away, but the ladies have moved on. Then again, he sure buys a lot of beer.

My guess is they're strolling and trolling nearby. Maybe it's better enforcement, but I'd like to feel I have a bit part in this particular street theater.

If I'm not busy, I follow 'da boys outside sometimes and we solve all of Saipan's problems while they start on their road beer. That's usually not fun for a passing hooker. Let's put it this way: what are the first words most people seem to learn in any language? Okay, it's hard to embarrass a professional, but who needs that kind of aggravation and attention?

Maybe that's not it at all, but it fits what I've seen. Even when they're out in 'hey sailor' mode, they tend to walk faster and not advertise when they're within shouting distance of the store.

This all popped into my head because of Tim Harford: It takes a neighborhood to cut crime in the Saipan Tribune (Sacramento Bee*)today. Harford talks about 'eyes on the street' reducing crime.

This doesn't work as well if the only eyes on the street are attached to merchandise on the street. The loitering law is a good start, but it must be a nightmare to get solid evidence. I'm sure the police try, but they're pretty much reduced to saying 'move on, move on, or go inside'. The bicycle police, another good idea, are faced with spotters holding cellphones. By the time they get around a corner, it's like a speakeasy was turned into a church revival.

The new zoning plan will help, a lot. Just don't expect it to change anything overnight. As a practical matter, a lot of pretty crappy land uses have been grandfathered in. That's just reality. Be happy that it's there after all of the false starts.

Also in today's Saipan Tribune we hear another verse for an old, sad song. (Growing the Russian market) A Russian manager for Vladivostok Air, Roman Gregoriev, chimes in about Saipan's sleaze factor:

“Thailand doesn't have a good reputation [among Russians] because of its sex industry, especially for couples and families with children. But Saipan is a really good place for them. That is why some Russians were really disappointed when they found a lot of strange massage-lounges in Garapan,” he said.
Hopefully that will soon be behind us. We should also start seeing new buildings that are not built right up to the property line (or a few feet over it) with no place to park cars. With patience, and no retreat by the politicans this time, we can expect improvement.

Way back, I thought I wanted to be a land use planner when I grew up. A noble calling, but politicians and 'stakeholders' love to use the messenger as a punching bag. Planners grab fistfuls of information from hearings and written comments, stuff it into a plan... and usually get attacked immediately from all sides.

What I loved about planning was that it was a certificate program within the Geography department. I could take almost anything and justify it to my advisor.

Physics? Sure. Geology? Absolutely. Satellite images? Yum. Don't forget the math, especially statistics. There's economic, political and social geography so I could dip into those subjects. So much for a generalist like me that I soon lost interest in having a boring specialty. My allergic reaction to politics just pushed me over the edge and eventually into Communications.

What I began to notice in my trek through the so-called Social Sciences was the academics busily re-inventing the wheel in their Ivory Towers. That includes geographers. Other than to justify an occasional salvo at a competing department's tower, it seemed that most of them weren't even reading the journals outside of their niche.

Which brings us back to that economist.

Before it morphed into the dismal pseudo-science, economics was political economy. You may have heard of a few of its champions: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx. I may have forgotten everything else in my poli-sci 201 text, but its definition of politics stuck: “who gets what”. Economists are still stuck there, they just deny it. Whatever their protestations, economists are not scientists. They use many of the same tools. A hammer is a great tool for cracking nuts, but using it doesn't make me a carpenter.

Economists usually refuse to see the assumptions behind their "scientific" theories. If you don't acknowledge them, they don't exist.

Look at the statistics he cites about high-rise buildings-and don't get me started about "new-wave" economists. It's simple really: high-rise equals high-crime.

Okay, let's see, do those studies include how the building fits into its neighborhood? Are the tall buildings just plopped on a lot with no place for people to hang out on the ground floor? I'm not talking about a Starbucks on every block, but that's better than a sterile lobby or gated staircase. But let's not think, we'll just say "It's the height of the building itself that matters."

Old urban neighborhoods are a glorious mess, with a wondrous cacaphony of children playing streetball and their parents or sibling hanging out on the stoop or fire escape. The greengrocer spills out onto the sidewalk. It's too bad they're an anachronism in today's world of drive-by shootings, pedophiles and crack houses. But they worked reasonably well, and should be kept in mind whenever something new is being built.

Oh, he refers to "eyes on the street" as "urbanist Jane Jacobs' persuasive, but unproven, insight". Sheesh. That idea was old news back when I was reading Lewis Mumford.

*My link comes from the Sacramento Bee, but I first read the Article in the Saipan Tribune. I couldn't find it in their online edition. It took forever to track the story down with various keywords. I finally had to give up on Microsoft's search engine and jump to the trusted Google.


lil_hammerhead said...

prostitution should have been legalized here aloooooooooong time ago. it's been here all the time and it will be here for a long long time. legalize it, regulate it and tax it. if not, you're just kidding yourself thinking your doing anything about it. maybe just moving it from one block or one village to another.

KAP said...

That's just what we need with our sterling image.

Where ya gonna get the workers? Nobody local on a small island. Besides, that's a lot of Hail Marys.

No country is going to sign off on exporting sex workers. Besides, it's the same old problem, neighboring countries do it cheaper.

But philosophically, hypothetically, ideally, I agree. Maybe we could rename Aguiguan (again) Old Goat Island. Brothels surrounded by billowing fields of lush, verdant pakololo.

Nah, let's just stay with the barter system.

lil_hammerhead said...

It's been around as far back as I can remember here. I think rather than waste resources in some futile effort to fight it. It should be made safe and taxed.

Saipan Writer said...

You forgot John Maynard Keynes. :-)

"No country is going to sign off on exporting sex workers." They will if you call them waitresses. :-)

BTW, Lil, I disagree. On an idealogical level, I understand the argument but on a practical - real level, no. It's not just women selling their bodies for cash.

Prostitution promotes sexual exploitation. It's an ugly business, filled with corruption, violence, and sexism. You're not going to regulate that with taxes and health regulations.

lil_hammerhead said...

"It's an ugly business, filled with corruption, violence, and sexism."

So is politics.