Citizen activism can take many forms. Engaged citizens can write letters, help get out the vote, attend government meetings, and organize protests. Oh, they can also build much-needed infrastructure that local officials refuse to deliver.
That’s exactly what Adi Asti did when the City of Toronto told him it would cost between $65,000 and $150,000 to build a short set of stairs in his favorite park. The 73-year-old, who had watched several people fall while attempting scramble up and down a steep hill, found that estimate ludicrous. So, he took it upon himself to build the steps for the residents who use the park’s community garden, soccer fields, and walking paths.
Asti, who knows his way around a tool chest, bought wood and other supplies with $550 of his own money, enlisted the help of a homeless man who happened to be in the park and built a staircase in a matter of hours.
End of story, right? Of course not. After all, there were bureaucrats involved. The city immediately declared the steps unacceptable for safety reasons and informed Asti his handiwork would be removed. The good news: No doubt prompted by all the publicity surrounding Asti’s noble endeavor, the city also announced it would build a suitable set of stairs – for much less than those original estimates.
Similar stories have come out of Detroit in recent years. Residents of that financially beleaguered city have banded together to patrol their neighborhoods against vandalism, mowed park grass, and worked to prevent abandoned houses from becoming drug dens.
Such acts remind us that while government has a critical role in our society, the community is infinitely more important to our collective well-being.