Traverse City's downtown doesn't have some of the amenities that make downtowns in bigger cities shine, but it does have some sidewalk cafe-style eating and the Jay Smith Walkway, a little pocket park tucked into a gap between the buildings on the north side of Front Street.
On Monday, the city commission acted to ensure that visitors to the downtown can continue to enjoy that little oasis in peace.
For a very long time the Walkway was simply a break between the buildings. In 2006 the city undertook a major face lift, installing pavers, a fountain, lunch tables and benches. It quickly became a tiny urban rest area off Front Street, a place for shoppers to just sit or get food from Kilwin's Chocolates or Pangea's Pizza, which flank the Walkway.
Shoppers and downtown visitors have been complaining in recent months about people drinking in the park and then confronting passersby, begging for money and sleeping and urinating in the bushes.
Kilwin's Owner Mary Daily said some customers avoid the area completely. "We (have) families and people just going through the area (that) are very intimidated," she said.
On Monday, the city commission decided to ban all alcohol in the park. Up to now, individuals have been allowed to drink beer and wine, but too many street people and others were taking it too far. It was a necessary move to keep a city asset attractive to average citizens who want to relax without the pressure of panhandlers or being confronted by drunks.
Traverse City has over the years developed a reputation for being relatively open-minded about street people and the homeless who walk the streets day and night. Some churches take turns opening their doors at night to allow homeless individuals a place to eat and sleep and even a chance to send and receive e-mails. There have been virtually no instances of police using unnecessary force on homeless individuals; there are confrontations — mostly verbal — between street people and people on the street, but not many.
Also Monday, city commissioner Mike Gillman said he wants to see the city clamp down on "drunken bums" and "dope heads" who can make a walk downtown uncomfortable. That's fine, but it requires a deft touch by police to protect everyone's place in the city. Rights go both ways.
Ensuring that the city's sidewalks are safe is a basic goal. No one has the right to confront or harass women on the street or to aggressively beg for money. But citizens and officials alike must make sure the scales don't tip too far the other way.