My last post on “broken windows” struck a chord, with a dozen comments logged so far.
While there was a range of views expressed on the role of government in maintaining a “safe and clean Ventura,” nearly everyone can agree with Mike Meriweather’s observation: “We can all do our part and should NOT rely on government to do it all .” (emphasis added)
In a pluralistic community, there will be vigorous debates about how much government should regulate private property and how much it should spend to maintain public property, especially in tough economic times. But there should be broad agreement that we all benefit from partnerships that bring together government, community groups and private businesses and individuals to maintain and improve our community.
It happens that there are two high profile opportunities for that this month.
There’s been an upsurge in pride and involvement among Westside residents who’ve actively participated in the planning process for their neighborhood’s future — and they’ve pushed hard for added parks and economic opportunities. This Saturday, June 16, the Westside Community Council is spearheading a neighborhood clean up effort focused on a location for recycling unwanted household items and safely disposing e-waste free of charge. The collection site will be at 255 W. Stanley Ave. at the Ventura Unified School District’s Education Service Center from 8 am-12 pm. It’s a great chance to toss unwanted metal, wood, furniture, appliances, tires, computers and other electronic waste. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Boys and Girls Club which provides educational enrichment and recreation activities in the heart of the Westside. The Boys and Girls Thrift Store (located on Ventura Avenue) will also be on site to receive donatable items.
Our historic Downtown is also thriving as the summer tourist season begins. The “clean and safe” crews provided by the Downtown Ventura Partnership are keeping the area looking tidy despite the crowds. On Saturday, June 30, volunteers are joining a big Downtown planting and sprucing up effort. Participants are assembling in front of Ventura City Hall at 9:00am. The event, which runs to noon, will give young and old an opportunity to pitch in and make a positive contribution right in the heart of our city.
These periodic volunteer efforts are no substitute for year-round city maintenance efforts or the proper maintenance of private property, as several commenters on my last blog post noted. Yet no one should underestimate the cumulative impact of volunteer efforts to contribute to a cleaner and safer community — and to spur others to emulate those efforts.
The “broken window” theory makes the connection between visual conditions and safety. “Vandalism can occur anywhere once communal barriers—the sense of mutual regard and the obligations of civility—are lowered by actions that seem to signal that ‘no one cares,’” wrote James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in their 1982 article, “Broken Windows.” More controversially, they extended the connection further:
“We suggest that ‘untended’ behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers . . . Such an area is vulnerable to criminal invasion.”
The web of caring and safety in any community is inherently fragile. Grabbing a broom to sweep a Downtown street or planting a row of new drought-tolerant plants in a weed-choked strip next to a public parking lot or hauling an old couch out a vacant lot down the street may seem like small things. They are. And it is the collective impact of all those small things that create a “safe and clean” Ventura.