If only real life was as refreshing as a computer game.

It's been a slow summer, and my son has been reduced to playing SimCity on the Dell. He's much better at running virtual cities than I am--I'm usually run out of town on a rail after bankrupting the treasury and outraging those hard-to-please Sims. You give 'em subways and the ingrates still complain about traffic; you build a great economy and they start whining about crime and pollution.

One of the things that's fun about SimCity for a Tucsonan is that, win or lose, the game is built on known rules that apply to everyone. As mayor, you have to put in roads and sewers, for example, before the Sims will build in your territory. Such a refreshing concept.

Tucson is different. Consider these recent stories from the morning paper:

July 17--"'Mount Cesare' irks residents." A builder creates a giant pile of dirt at the intersection of River and Craycroft, exceeding his permit by more than eight vertical feet, and after months of complaining by neighbors is fined $750, $550 of which he gets back if he's in compliance within 90 days. For creating a major eyesore and health hazard--can you say "Valley Fever?"--in an upscale part of town, this guy will be out of pocket $200.

I paid half that when my son was four days late clearing up a registration glitch with his car--he hadn't even been cited for a moving violation but, we were advised, a warrant had been issued for his arrest. The public danger presented by late tags cannot be exaggerated.

Apples and oranges, you say. Read on.

July 23--"Condo fire points to widespread deficiencies." Firefighters at a two-alarm fire in a complex at Orange Grove and Oracle had to lay 700 feet of hose before tackling the fire because the complex doesn't have any hydrants--only cute little hydrant-shaped "connections." Eight families were displaced and two units damaged. Two weeks before, eight apartments were destroyed in a similarly plumbed complex across the street. Residents, we are advised, should have thought to call their local fire district to see whether their prospective homes were up to code--I know I always check whether the hydrants on the street are real or not before I move in--because developers do not have to retro-fit. Nervous Nellie renters and condo-owners who feel anxious about their places burning down before the firemen find a working hydrant are always free to move. It's a free country.

Also on the fertile caveat emptor beat, a July 25 monsoon-themed item--"Rain erodes SW-Side lots." This story featured a woman who's complaining just because her yard, which was mysteriously "removed" from a special flood hazard area, is returning to its native, deeply channeled state. She's hauled 36 tons of rock and 24 tons of dirt to try to protect her house, which "has a river running on both sides" and "is where the water wants to go." She is "very angry" at the developer, who, in turn, claims that the "sheet flooding" inevitable on the property was explained to buyers. Not in detail, it would seem.

There might be a pattern here, but then, all this is in the unincorporated county--still the Wild West, folks. Where's your sense of adventure?

But wait. Have you tried to walk along the sidewalk on the south side of the 100 block of East Congress in the last six weeks? Someone is redoing a handsome old building a couple doors down from Grill. Good enough. But even as you walk toward the beautiful old Fox Theatre marquee sparkling in the night, you risk life and limb, because not only is the sidewalk completely blocked by chain-link fencing, there's a big dumpster sticking out into the street. This means that any pedestrian--oh, how we want them swarming our charming old downtown, spending money like water--must step out into the traffic on Congress to continue west.

Really, is there another municipality in the First World that doesn't require contractors to maintain pedestrian right-of-ways? Hoarding is not that hard to build--bang together a few two-by-fours, some plywood, and it's all re-usable--but Tucson is not going to inconvenience the building trade even to the extent of keeping a downtown sidewalk passable.

And yes, I have a cranky, I'm-just-a-private-citizen kvetch about this issue, too. Years ago, a contractor dumped a pile of sand in my yard--we were building a wall--that blocked not the sidewalk--there was none--but the pedestrian right-of-way along Treat Street. A cop was at my door within an hour. I said, "Yessir, nosir," got a shovel and cleared a path that afternoon while my son, then a baby, took his nap. Not that many people walked on our side of the street.

SimTucson would be a challenge for programmers: Many sets of rules, all contingent on who you are. They'd have to get into chaos theory to even come close.

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