The most basic need

Water scarcity on Sacramento streets is unacceptable

The public drinking fountain, standing on a street corner or in a park, says to the citizen: “Your city loves you and doesn’t want you to be thirsty.” That idea belongs to Kurt Schmoke, the visionary former mayor of Baltimore and crusader for civic involvement.

Schmoke has become famous for the pioneering stance he took against the War on Drugs, which began in the late 1980s. (He later cameoed in two episodes of The Wire on that topic.) I remember him more for his pioneering notions regarding the role a city should play in the life of its inhabitants.

For Schmoke, the public drinking fountain was metaphoric. He was actually working on much bigger issues. Confronting a city that had been in sharp decline, Schmoke managed to bring major improvements to schools and public housing while also working with local businesses on economic development. The idea was, we need to serve our people, in all of their dealings with the city, in the same way we do by providing water fountains. Of course, he kept the fountains up, too.

Michael Mott’s news piece on water scarcity in our city (see “Fountain of truth,” page 8) reveals an unacceptable situation. I can’t get my head around the fact that at least two people have died of heat stroke in our streets this summer— in a downtown that does not have any water fountains. I can hardly believe that after the United Nations came to town and ripped us for this very thing, there isn’t a crusade.

We are fortunate—and I am grateful—that Mayor Darrell Steinberg is genuinely committed to doing something about the murderous conditions confronting our city’s homeless population. He might start with drinking fountains. It would be symbolically powerful, and it might save lives.