Tuscon, AZ Beautification Brigade: Ambassadors or Antagonists?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 3 Mar 1999 16:10:38 -0800 (PST)


FWD  http://www.azstarnet.com/public/dnews/0302r2.html

     AMBASSADORS OF GOODWILL OR ANTAGONISTS?

     By M. Scot Skinner
     The Arizona Daily Star - March 2, 1999

Dressed in purple shirts and khaki pants, they roam the streets of downtown
Tucson 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Tucson Downtown Alliance, the new merchants' association that put crews
on the streets last October, calls them security and maintenance
``ambassadors.''

Most everyone else calls them the purple people.

But whatever their name, it's clear that the beautification brigade is
making an impression on those who live, work or hang out in the city's
center.

``The streets are a lot cleaner,'' said Robin Arnoldi of Indian Village, 72
E. Congress St. ``I see them sweeping all the time.''

Other business people agree that downtown is looking better these days. The
downtown alliance leaders said they hope the makeover will attract more
visitors and businesses to the struggling area.

Steve Eye, who lives on East Toole Street, was skeptical of the purple
people, at first.

``We were all wondering about what they actually did, but as time went on,
I think they are actually doing something. They look like they are cleaning
up the city. They are part of a culture that actually cares about
downtown.''

The purple people haul an average of 1,000 pounds of garbage daily. They
escort late-night workers to their cars in dark parking garages. They
charge dead batteries, or provide assistance to those who lock their keys
in the car. In January, one of the purples changed a tire.

Equipped with two-way radios, they also call the police when they encounter
criminal activity.

That's why some of Tucson's homeless call them the purple police.

``They are not solving any problems, they are antagonizing people,'' said
Charles Flowers.

Flowers, 46, said he was harassed because he was sitting on a low wall in
the Main Library plaza, reading a book in broad daylight.

``They came up to me and told me that I was loitering and that I had to go
somewhere else,'' said Flowers, who is convinced that it was his bedroll
and backpack that attracted their attention.

``They sure didn't accuse any of the other people of loitering that day,''
he said yesterday. ``I didn't think that was right.''

Other homeless people agree that some purple people treat them unfairly.

``They get a little bit of power, like a doughnut shop manager, and they
think they are one of those guys,'' said R. Flag, pointing to nearby Tucson
Police officers.

Even so, he said, ``they are doing more good than bad for downtown.''

The purple people do not target the homeless for harassment, said alliance
spokeswoman Sereva Ball.

``That's a misconception,'' she said. ``It doesn't matter if you're
homeless, if your conduct is not acceptable, you'll be asked to move along.

``If the pope takes a pee on the sidewalk, the pope's gonna get arrested,''
she said. ``We want to make downtown attractive to everyone, a place where
they can come and enjoy. Much like in a mall, you have people watching out
for unacceptable behavior, and that's all we're doing.''

END FORWARD

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