October 29, 2007

Cleaning The Streets

On a recent visit to our own notorious Red Cow Roundabout, I saw something that will be familiar to motorists at busy traffic junctions in cities across the world. Washcloths and wipers at the ready, some enterprising lads had decided it was high time that visitors to Ireland's busiest crossroads had their windscreens cleaned whilst they sat in line waiting for the lights to change.

I must say that I noted their arrival with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I admired their initiative. These sponge-bobs looked like international workers and I was inclined to applaud their get-up-and-go in an economy where the native Irish shun many of the more menial jobs. But on the other, I found myself anticipating where this might all be headed. Whilst these lads were cheerful and not inclined to insist, I could well imagine how it might play out some months down the road, when the days are darker, a little more persistence is called for, and a single, female motorist might find their approach threatening. I know from experience elsewhere that the authorities are quick to discourage the new roadside entrepreneurs as their unregulated activities are seen to contribute to the climate of 'fear and loathing' that often mars urban spaces. I recall that Messrs. Giuliani and Bratton made the squeegee boys the first target of their zero-tolerance strategy in the belief that they and other roadside hawkers were the forerunners of the forces of disorder on the streets.

And whilst the Red Cow Roundabout is a byword for traffic delays, it is not yet known as an unsafe place to stop your vehicle. If the experience of other jurisdictions is anything to go by, the appearance of the squeegee boys is not something that the local authorities can simply ignore.

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