My favorite Robert Sheckley story is "Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay," in which a city equipped with AI nags its inhabitants for their own good, causing all of them to move out. I thought of this while coming across a news item yesterday. REASON magazine recently ranked "the worst nanny cities in America" by their municipal ordinances designed to save people from themselves: laws against smoking, drugs, guns, sex, alcohol, gambling. What interested me especially was that different cities target different vices.
Seattle and L.A. are hard on smokers -- Seattle bans smoking not only in public places but also 25 feet away from doors -- but (according to the magazine) "mostly looks the other way on pot." Nashville and Memphis are death on pot but let you smoke anywhere. Houston and El Paso are tough on both substances but easy on guns, whereas Chicago tries to control guns and has some alcohol-free, "dry" districts.
The least nanny-like city (no surprise) is Las Vegas. It allows gambling, guns, smoking, drinking, and may legalize prostitution. Next unrestricted is Miami, although maybe because nobody can keep up with all its vices anyway.
My city, Rochester, is hard on smoking, soft on alcohol, allows a state lottery and church bingo, and is up to 24 homicides this year. Per capita, we're more dangerous than Manhattan. Guns abound. Several of the homicide victims were by-standers. The most recent, a few days ago, was deliberately run over with a car.
All Sheckley's city did was nag the story's protagonist about eating enough fruit.