Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fran Lee, R.I.P.

We take civilization for granted: hot and cold running water, electricity, food and drink, roads and streets, communications, education, art and culture, literature, music, recreation, public health, public safety, waste disposal, even the Olympics.
The closest most of us in our comfortable lives get to non civilization is to look at the pictures coming out of Haiti, or Somalia, or the like. Even our barrios and ghettos partake of civilization.

Yes, we take civilization for granted. We do not even think of those who made it possible. We may drive on streets named for them, or fly into airports named after them, but we hardly ever ask “who was that man or woman?”

Millions over millennia have brought us civilization, ranging from the famous to the unknown. For every William Mulholland or Robert Moses, hundreds of thousands of engineers, contractors, sandhogs, teamsters, carpenters, steelworkers toiled in anonymity to design, construct, operate and maintain the infrastructure of America.

For every John Muir, thousands of rangers and tens of thousands of volunteers implement the dreams.

For every Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, thousands design the actual product.

Planning commissions, zoning boards, building inspectors, public authorities play a role.

And then there are the Frances Lederman Weiss’, generally unknown to the public, but one of the greatest contributors to 20th Century urban civilization. Fran Lee died 11 days ago at age 99 in Jerusalem.

She had been an actress, a consumer advocate, a TV and radio personality, but mostly in the New York area. Most of us never heard of her; maybe Bess Myerson, because she had been a Miss America, but not Fran Lee.

We should be naming streets, and intersections, and neighborhoods, and animal parks for Fran Lee. City life has its advantages, but also its hassles. We tolerate them as the cost of living in the city.

All Fran Lee did was to lead the public efforts that led to adoption of New York City’s Pooper Scooper Ordinance.

Just think how much cleaner the Big Apple is, and all the other cities that have followed the City’s lead.

Fran Lee civilized the animal side of the city.

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