Transients in Missoula, and happiness in Billings 

Few can argue that Missoula doesn’t bend over backwards to attract visitors and newcomers to our fair city through such self-beautifying touches as A Carousel for Missoula, the downtown lamppost plant holders, and the “We like it here, Missoula!” window signs. Now here’s a dilemma: How does Missoula switch gears and make itself a less desirable destination for that population of—how would Pat Buchanan put it—“less-desirables?”

That’s the conundrum facing the Missoula Downtown Association, which this week launched its Transient Task Force, a year-round initiative to reduce the number of panhandlers on the streets of Missoula who blossom each spring along interstate exit ramps and highway underpasses with the ubiquity of knapweed. “We’ve certainly made the transient population aware of how easy it is to make a living here. We need to reverse that,” says MDA’s Linda McCarthy.

This week, the MDA task force held its first meeting and is seeking input from the general public on ways to address the problem without destroying the impression Missoula has of itself as being a compassionately progressive enclave. Although aggressive panhandling is already against the law and the city has allocated money for more bicycle cops, the best solutions will likely not be found in more laws or taxpayer dollars. Some suggestions already submitted to the Independent—installing circular park benches that cannot be slept on, store window signs proclaiming “We Work Here, Missoula!” and bumper stickers that read “A fed bum is a dead bum”—sound less than promising. Surely, we can do better. Send your ideas to us at: Transient Solutions, 115 South 4th West, Missoula, MT 59801.

Speaking of nice places to live, did you know that Billings, of all places, was recently cited in a Self magazine survey as the city with the “highest happiness level” in America?

Billings, the “Magic City,” always gets a bum rap. Even the Billings native (“Kimberly Heights, yo!”) on the Indy’s generally fair-minded editorial staff is often wont to describe his upbringing in the “Tragic City” thusly: “You know how Spokane’s got all the bad parts of living in a real big city but none of the good ones? Billings has got all the bad things about living in Spokane, and none of the good ones.” And does he run around singing show tunes with vaunted Billingsian glee? Hardly.

But Billings isn’t all belching oil refineries and crank-fueled weirdos. The Self survey doesn’t go into great detail as to how America arrived at Billings as its happiest city, but we suspect that it’s the sum total of all the little details: the preponderance of sunshine, the active sports life, the resplendent backdrop of the Rims that skirt the city, the booming economy and excellent school system and littler things still, like the snow-eating chinook winds, heavy with the aroma of wet sage, that lick the city on sunny winter days.

Our former Magic Citizen concurs with this hypothesis, adding only that his favorite thing about Billings is still the diorama of Sacrifice Cliff in the Yellowstone County Museum. See it some time.

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