Sunday, March 2, 1997
Lock 'em up, just not
in my backyard


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's called a ''nimby.''

This means that something important, maybe even essential, should happen but ''Not In My Back Yard.'' It can be towers for cell phones or a dump, even gambling.

The county (that's all of us) needs a new juvenile lockup. The city (that's part of us) doesn't want it. The county has lined up $4 million from the state to remodel Millcreek Psychiatric Center for Children in Bond Hill - at no extra cost to the county or the city. No extra cost. Well, I certainly like the sound of that, don't you? The campus is empty now. Wasteful, isn't it?

Who's suing whom?

County Commissioner John Dowlin says the 62-bed facility would be completely fenced and secure. ''And for 20 years, that had been used for juveniles who were deeply psychotic and that wasn't a neighborhood problem.''

Well, I'm sorry to report that the neighbors say it's a problem.

People who live in Bond Hill have protested every way they know how. To each other. To Hamilton County. To City Hall. To Columbus. To the press.

They have made some rather muscular claims to the effect that they're going to sue somebody's pants off if this happens. Whose pants? Our pants. Everybody pays the tab when part of us sues all of us.

If it's such a good idea, someone says at a press conference, ''Why don't you put it in Indian Hill?'' If they did, Indian Hill would survive. As would Blue Ash or Hyde Park. But not Bond Hill.

Take Wyoming, for instance. Nothing awful happened after 20 years with Hillcrest School, a place for extremely troubled delinquents, in its back yard, just across the city limits in Springfield Township But Wyoming's a place of excellent schools, beautiful homes. It's strong enough to co-exist with a nimby.

Bill Hamilton, who runs Hillcrest, says a youthful offender's family members should be nearby, available for visits and counseling, and that about 80 percent of the inmates would be from the city. One suspects if these kids really had families pining for a visit, they might not be there.

He tells me about the Hillcrest boy who never smiled. Big, handsome, but dangerous-looking, he didn't make friends easily. Then they fixed his teeth, rotted from a steady diet of soda pop and potato chips and not much else.

You should see his smile now. Maybe he'll be one who makes it, who doesn't graduate from this campus to Lucasville.

Knee jerk, bleeding heart

This is not my knee jerking or my heart bleeding. This is a practical matter. Take one kid who is saved and multiply by the number of houses not burgled, convenience stores not robbed, murders not committed. And it might be mentioned that these crimes make their way from back yard to back yard. And it might be noticed that sick cities produce more crime than healthy ones.

Bond Hill is a community that is headed in the right direction. Towanda Terrace, which abuts the Millcreek campus, is lined with old trees and beautifully maintained homes. To the north is Tastemaker, a food and beverage plant recently acquired by a Swiss company which has said it plans to expand here.

Down the street is a General Electric subsidiary and the impressive Institute of Advanced Manufacturing Sciences. They could probably use a little more space, too, something any inner city neighborhood has in small supply.

''We are,'' says Cincinnati City Councilmember Dwight Tillery, who lives there, ''struggling to stay above water.''

If we want the city to solve its problems, we have to listen to the city's solutions. And when fragile neighborhoods like Bond Hill make progress, maybe you have to be more protective. There are other back yards, a county full of them.

And what happens if the good citizens in Bond Hill and North Avondale give up and move out? What happens if we spend the money we could be using to fix more teeth and save more lost souls by fighting with each other?

Sounds wasteful, don't you think? And expensive in every conceivable way.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.