We’re fighting the temptation to ask what “real” cities would do, but we’ve never been in a major city that is as lackadaisical about maintenance and repair as ours.

This photo is a case in point.  The sad thing is that it is hardly the exception to the rule, because all us downtown have witnessed for years repairs of this caliber on Main Street, formerly Mid-American Mall.

Long-time Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joe Riley sums it up well.  He says there is no matter too small when it comes to the urban design and development of a city’s urban fabric.  In fact, he founded the Mayor’s Institute of City Design to proselytize his gospel: that mayors are the chief urban designers for their cities.  It’s also why as mayor, he’s picked the brick type and the brick patterns for public projects and the designs of low-income housing that speak to the architectural traditions of his city.

His advice was ringing in our ears as we looked at yet another eyesore masquerading as a repair on Main Street.  Yet another car drove on our “pedestrian mall” and broke yet another grate and yet another repair by city government sends the message that we lack any sense of design or standards for our public realm.

The answer to the damaged grates is to affix plywood over them.  It’s not the first time this has been the City of Memphis’ answer to this problem, because some of the boards have been in place for years.

Then, there’s the bricks lining each side of the trolley tracks.  Finding one that isn’t cracked or broken as the result of a car running over it is about as easy as finding a mobile home still standing after a tornado.  That’s not to mention the lack of a coherent sign policy that’s a key element to a downtown that looks cared for.

One thing is certain: it’s impossible to keep Main Street, allegedly a pedestrian mall, in a reasonable condition as long as city government only gives lip service to keeping cars and trucks off the street.  More to the point, it’s often as not that the damage on Main Street is in fact caused by a city vehicle.