Natchez needs to be mindful of the little things

Published 12:33 am Sunday, October 7, 2007

Several years ago author Robert Fulghum penned a book titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

The book was a huge hit for its ultimate in boiled-down wisdom. Lessons such as share everything, hold hands and stick together resonated with people from all walks of life.

Only looking at kindergarten lessons may get you through most of the big things in life, but a few other lessons, from junior high science class can also teach us volumes.

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Remember when you first heard the notion of “germs?” If you’re like me, you probably can’t. Mothers have a way of bolstering the lowly germ to heights of greatness.

The germ became the great invisible evildoer of childhood.

Then, eventually, as the science lessons came, germs and other tiny things came into focus.

First off, not all of the little creatures are bad. Some are; some aren’t.

But the lesson in there is: “Little things in life can help you or they can hurt you.”

Those science lab lessons apply to cities and their citizens, too.

More than a decade ago Natchez city leaders realized the lesson when they began working on the city’s sign ordinance and other historic preservation regulations.

Such laws seemed trivial to some residents. Why does it matter if I put up a huge sign in front of my business? It’s my property so I should be able to do what I please on it.

The leaders, however, realized the importance of two lessons — one from kindergarten and one from junior high biology.

First, the biology lesson: like germs, the city leaders realized that the little things were important. Huge, ugly signs all over an historic city are not appealing to out-of-town visitors.

The more difficult lesson for some to swallow came from kindergarten: We’re safer if we stick together.

Having a city that acts like 400 different individuals, each doing his thing, isn’t the best option for attracting tourists to town.

Having a city with 400 people, sharing the common vision for how to present the city’s beauty in a common, unified fashion, is a much better option.

City leaders put into law a system for taking down a number of overhead billboards.

Unfortunately no one has enforced those laws much recently, so the billboards remain.

In fact, tiny “germs” of violations pop up fairly regularly around town.

That’s kind of sad when you think about it. All of the good, hard work of the board of aldermen is slowly being worn away.

Policing signs was a good faith effort with good intentions. But those intentions will continue to fall through the cracks unless someone begins enforcement soon.

The same kind of good intent occurred several years ago when the City of Natchez decided to take responsibility for maintaining the medians along the state and federal highways within the city limits. Previously, the Mississippi Department of Transportation had mowed the grass between the strips of asphalt and concrete.

The city, it thought at the time, could do a better job in keeping the grass cut and looking pretty for residents and visitors alike. And they did do a better job for a while.

Now, it appears, they’re contracting it out to a third party as I saw a crew in an unmarked — neither City of Natchez or MDOT — vehicle cutting the grass along John R. Junkin Drive the other day.

The cutting was needed, but grass was still left overflowing the median, over the concrete curb and creeping into the edge of the roadway.

Again, it’s a little thing, but as your science teacher — and Louis Pasteur taught us all, little things can — and do — hurt you.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or