And how our environment shapes us, without us even realising – for better or worse. And how, through small actions, we can change our communities, every day.
It all started with some holes in the pavement outside a shop on Dewsbury Road. A local resident cared enough to raise it as an issue – he was rightly concerned that it was a trip hazard. A strong start. A Council officer who works with small traders pushed the shopkeeper who owned that stretch of pavement to take action – promising.
But the shopkeeper, or perhaps the contractor they got in, did a horrible low-grade job of it. The holes are filled, with concrete – but it looks like they spent about 5 minutes and £10 doing it. It’s messy, there’s concrete splattered all over, it’s the wrong colour, it just ain’t pretty. As someone added: they wouldn’t stand for this in North Leeds.
Sadly, this kind of thing is normal – perhaps increasingly so – in our communities. The reasons for it are multiple.
Whereas people or businesses in the past might have been locally rooted for decades or generations, and therefore felt locally invested, that’s not so much the case nowadays.
National legislation has over the past decades taken a hands-off (‘liberal’) approach to society and the economy: the Council, Police, and other institutions don’t have the power nor capacity to manage people and businesses as they used to (nor as they do in some other countries).
The government cuts of the past 13 years haven’t helped. The cost of living crisis means that everyone’s financially squeezed – individuals and businesses alike. And at base, we’re overshadowed by a rampant capitalism that values profit margins above all else. Why spend good time and money doing a nice job on the pavement, when you can cut corners and do it cheap?
But this article isn’t about that. What I’m interested in is the impact of things like the shoddy concrete – upon each of us, every day. All the things that we see each day, in our communities, that speak of carelessness and neglect. Tumble-down houses. Messy gardens. Overgrown weeds and untidy bushes. Litter and flytipping. All of this, and more.
Our environment shapes us, often in unseen subconscious ways. You don’t need to give attention to these things, and think to yourself “That looks crappy”, or “People don’t care about our community.” These things work on us, deeply. They wear us down, and depress us. They shape how we think, and how we interact with others, and with our local landscape.
But can we do things differently? Can we turn the tide? Can we make a difference?
There’s a widely-held scientific theory called the butterfly effect. It states that a butterfly could flap its wings in one corner of the world, and that small act could cause a tornado on the other side of the world. Why? Because the world is a deeply complex place, everything is interconnected, and even tiny events can have unpredictable ripple effects.
But what does that mean for us? Small acts can make a big difference: they can generate ripples that create widescale change. For example, one person might start picking up a few bits of litter, every day, in their neighbourhood; that might well inspire others to do the same; and their neighbourhood would be changed. All the more so if those people spoke with their friends, family, and neighbours about litter.
This is the basis of our new ‘Better Beeston’ campaign, launching this month. People are rightly sceptical that we can create litter-free communities. Yet there are thousands of communities, not unlike ours, across the UK and the world, that are largely litter-free. And there are streets and neighbourhoods here in South Leeds that are litter-free already. If they can do it, so can we.
Big systems like government and the business sector have a role to play, undoubtedly. But ultimately, litter and street waste is a social problem. It’s rooted in many of the same reasons (listed above) why the concreting job was poorly executed.
And is very much fed by the collective depression (mentioned above) that comes from living in a messy community. If people believe that littering or flytipping are normal and acceptable, they do it; if they don’t believe that, they don’t (in most cases).
The future of our communities is in our hands. Do you want to live a litter-free community? Take small steps to help create a cleaner and more beautiful community. Not just by litter-picking, but by talking with others. And also through things which uplift us – like gardening, street art, and simply adding colour to our local landscape.
It’s not easy. But if we want to change our communities, if we’re prepared to flap our wings, we can.
This post was written by Cllr Ed Carlisle (Green, Hunslet & Riverside)
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