Some say the warning “You can't fight city hall” got its start in the days of the corrupt Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall in New York City in the late 1800s. Some suggest it might date to an early 17th century English proverb.
Though the phrase's origin might be murky, it's meaning is clear: The government will do whatever it wants to, and we can can't stop it; it is “us” vs. “them,” and they have all the power. And the aphorism's longevity attests to his hold on the popular imagination.
But it's ain't necessarily so. Fort Wayne residents have had a couple of experiences to the contrary in recent days. One was the attempt by Indiana Tech to build athletic facilities at Memorial Park. The other was the plan for a three-building commercial center anchored by Peter Franklin Jewelers on the south side of Jefferson Boulevard between Jefferson Pointe and Time Corners.
Public sentiment killed the Memorial Park plans outright. Indiana Tech had what seemed like a good idea on paper, a public-private partnership that would have invested $6 million of the school's money in the park for a running track and state-of-the-art softball stadium, facilities which could have been used by Tech students and city residents alike. But the park was dedicated to honor World War I vets in 1918, and Tech's plans would have necessitated relocating three monuments and destroying a memorial grove of trees. Park users and other city residents overwhelmingly and loudly opposed the plans, and the school bowed out as a gracious neighbor and said it would look elsewhere.
Opponents weren't able to kill the commercial center. The City Council approved the plan 5-3, despite the Plan Commission's unanimous opposition to it. But concessions were made about how the land can be used. 100 different types of businesses will be excluded from the project in order to minimize the impact on neighbors; there will be no drive-through lanes except for a bank; hours of operation will be limited, as will the time of trash collection; a six-foot berm topped by a six-foot fence will shield adjacent homes from the stores. The area is in transition from residential to commercial, and it was going to change sometime. This move will make the transition more orderly and beneficial to residents.
It's funny that “You can't fight city hall” has become the catchphrase for intractable government. It's hard to fight the state, nearly impossible to take on Washington. But the city is there for involved citizens to take on and tame.