City council members are spending the two weeks between regular meetings reviewing proposed changes to the landscape ordinance, and if readers are getting a déjà vu feeling about all this that's perfectly understandable.
Less than two years ago the council was also considering changes to the ordinance; back then it was to toughen it up, make the ordinance more stringent in its requirements of businesses in their landscaping.
Today, with a change in the makeup of the council, the discussion has flip-flopped toward easing up on some of the requirements — to make it more “business friendly.”
Much of this seems to us irrelevant, given that rarely has the ordinance in any of its forms been enforced, even dating back to the 1970s when it was originally adopted.
Aside from enforcement (or lack thereof), whether it's landscaping or historic preservation, we have long thought the city's approach has had little effect in either preserving old buildings or improving the “curb appeal” of heavily-traveled streets.
Basically, this is about regulating property ownership, making owners do something they have little interest in doing on their own or lack the resources to comply fully with what the legislation requires.
That there is an Historic District means historic preservation is a public policy goal of city government, something to be actively promoted as much as possible.
That there is a landscape ordinance on the books likewise clearly indicates the city has a vested interest in improving the aesthetic appeal of Vincennes through promoting green space, primarily in its commercial areas.
There is nothing wrong with those goals.
But it's long seemed to us that the city has gone about trying to achieve these goals in a backwards way — using a stick when offering a carrot would better serve.
It would make more sense, we believe, to offer affected property owners (either homeowners in the Historic District or business owners in designated commercial areas) a reward for doing the right thing, encouragement instead of deterrence.
This could be done in a variety of ways, including providing a rebate of sorts on the cost of compliance (materials and labor), or a tax refund system, perhaps even a no-interest loan program.
These options would require the city setting aside funding — of having funds to set aside — for such investment, which demands the wise use of public money.
And that we haven't seen of late … but there is hope.