We share the excitement of “change,” but to have real change we have to start with ourselves, in our own home, yard, block, community, and city. When we look around we may see clutter, litter, and a mess. Research shows that when people see a mess, they tend to make more of a mess. People must take seriously their responsibility for litter, and not depend on politicians, sanitation workers, street sweepers, or anyone else to clean up the mess they make.
We can start today to show appreciation for our city, which is beautiful, but far from perfect. We are thankful we live here, and we can each make a difference. We may have noticed that getting started is a challenge, but once we are involved we feel good. We all can, with a little effort, actually solve the problems of clutter, debris, and littering. The results would be a city we are all proud to live in.
It’s costly now in time, effort, negative impressions on us and our visitors, and, even worse, a poor example to our children. If we each do our part, we are being not only good citizens, but also creating a healthier community and feeling happier. It’s a good time to start to make a resolution to be a “change agent.”
Beyond our own actions, have you noticed that the problems of a dirty community seem to be created by the same people? Maybe you already recognize someone who fits one or more of the following descriptions. If so, please pass on the words “One Neat City!” before these folks bury all of us in their debris and neglect. The cost to clean up after them seems to have grown beyond our capacity to handle it. Here are some of the folks observed:
• The Smokers: They pollute the air and flick their cigarette butts into the streets while walking or driving. If people are old enough to smoke, aren’t they old enough to clean up after themselves and place their butts in a receptacle?
• The Wrappers: They are the ones who leave leftover food, wrappers, and bags on sidewalks, marking a messy path as they go along, like “Hansel and Gretel,” but no wolves are in sight to tidy up. So remind them (students and adults) to leave debris in a nearby receptacle. Mom does not follow us around anymore cleaning up the mess.
• The Papertrailers: These folks leave a legacy of newspapers, junk mail, and discarded calendars, ignoring the precious few signs saying, “Do Not Litter!” Let’s stop littering our streets with calendars of the past year, as this does nothing but cause a huge mess and deplete the coffers of an already strained city budget to repair the damage. There is a better way to dispose of paper inside the office.
• The Poopers: These are the folks with pets who do not understand there is a $100 fine for not using a “pooper scooper” and cleaning up after their pet. These culprits are usually found in and around parks, on the street, and in other places where folks are relaxing, sitting, and trying to enjoy eating lunch. Leaving pet debris is not a good way to care for your pet. And it’s more than just pet debris. This includes bodily functions like spitting on sidewalks and other human wastes that are better handled in the bathroom. Some use public bathrooms, but do not leave them clean for the next person. Public bathrooms must be maintained as a public necessity and respected as such.
• The Graffitiers: These are the ersatz “artists” who destroy the pleasure of riding a bus, trolley, walking along the street, or viewing any wall within the city. Young people need more outlets for art and find new and worthy constructive ways to express themselves. Tasteless graffiti turns the walls of the city into a distorted gallery of depression, not delight.
• The Busters: These folks seem to find gratification in destroying bus stops. When viewed alongside the ubiquitous graffiti, the destroyed shelters make visitors wonder how anyone can live in chaos and unhealthy conditions.
• The Blockers: These folks refuse to recycle their garbage, bottles, cans, and paper at home, which contributing to the expanding crisis at the city’s dump. They block the progress everyone else is trying to make to save the environment before we are buried alive in our garbage.
• The Watchers: These are the silent ones who see someone make a mess, or add to the clutter, but keep their mouths shut. (Know anyone who fits this category?)
• The Streetlivers: This is a huge problem, for these folks and for the well-being of everyone. We see humans before our eyes on our streets starving, ragged, and homeless, yet we pass them by. People must be able to live somewhere, but they must not be living on the sidewalks or in doorways. These conditions are unhealthy and inhuman for them and for everyone. We do not allow dogs to roam the street alone and hungry as they do in other countries and we must find solutions that really work. These people need food, clothes, counseling, showers, and a place to get a phone message from a prospective employer or family or a friend who can help. They can be part of the solution of getting the streets clean, if they are capable of working. “Homeless” is a problem that needs to be solved.
We need a real “City Corps” to get our community and city to shine again. Or are we just too callous, self absorbed, and lacking in basic human instincts to give a damn? It’s time to take some responsibility for the mess we are in, because no mayor, councilmember, president, Congress, nor anyone else is going to make a difference on our block. It’s time for each of us to take on our own mess and turn the problem around in our own neighborhood, in front of our home or apartment building, and on the street where we live. If help is needed, let’s find out who can work with us and then together help solve the problem. But let’s get the problems fixed.
Let’s start again to make this one very special city, let’s change America now in our own community before the next visitor comes in from yet one more country and laughs at the disarray they see. “Seedy,” one visitor from Montreal said the other night over coffee at a café on Telegraph Avenue and I felt ashamed for all of us. Let’s make a difference before we all lose this one great place to live, work, visit, and enjoy! This could be a clean community again if we only try. Yes we can!
Stevanne Auerbach is a writer and Berkeley resident.