Sunday, February 15, 2009

Baby Buggies

This morning, again, I saw a man pushing a baby buggy. All his worldly goods were piled into the baby buggy. This has become a common site in the part of East Dallas where I work. It’s another example of the law of unintended consequences.

A few years ago the then Mayor Laura Miller of Dallas put through a law making it illegal to push a shopping cart through the streets of the city. The reason was to keep homeless people from roaming the streets pushing full shopping carts. Of course the shopping carts were stolen from local grocery stores, and people shouldn’t have taken them. But the real reason for the law wasn’t to stop the theft of shopping carts. It was to remove the unsightly homeless people from pushing shopping carts full of stuff that looks like junk from the view of the people of Dallas.

The Dallas Police Department must enforce the law pretty effectively, because I almost never see anybody roaming the streets with full shopping carts anymore. But the stuff in the shopping carts wasn’t junk to the homeless people pushing them, it was all they owned. Sometimes cans to be resold, sometimes blankets for a bedroll, and other times food or miscellaneous items that they had some use for.

So homeless people have adopted an alternative pushcart—baby buggies. After the law was first passed there was a time of market uncertainty when a number of alternatives were tried out. I saw a wheelbarrow, bicycles and a number of wheeled contraptions that I couldn’t identify. In the end, though, baby buggies become the vehicle of choice.

I suppose that means that it isn’t safe to leave a baby buggy untended these days, and that certainly isn’t a good thing. But I’m mostly struck by how odd it looks to see a grown person pushing a baby buggy around the streets. I wonder if it feels demeaning—worse than pushing a shopping cart, or if after being on the street people become so used to indignities that they don’t care.

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