Reverting to old-fashioned values

The ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder once commented “there’s always something novel that comes out of Africa”. Well, I think that these days the US is the new Africa.

At the end of April, I read of a move by Pottstown Borough in Pennsylvania to introduce a local law which would make property-owners responsible for the litter that other people drop in the street or on the pavement in front of their property. The story contains a marvellous little snippet – Pottstown’s Borough Manager reported that a resident had returned from holiday in Massachusetts where he had discovered this local law in place. I am in awe of anyone who spends their holiday researching their vacation destination’s litter laws !

Anyway, as Ronnie Corbett would say from his chair, I digress……..

I feel a mixture of sadness and joy on this issue. My sadness stems from the fact that so many people recall their grandmother (it rarely seems to have been the grandfather…..) sweeping and scrubbing the front step and the area in front of their house. This nostalgic sense of pride in one’s house and, indeed, in one’s community brings to mind that lovely quotation (I know not from where) “if each before his own door swept the village would be clean”. Those were the days, eh ?

But I feel joy because, although being achieved through law rather than through public consent and volition, the idea signals a real effort to return to those solid bygone values of taking pride in your neighbourhood and, in so doing, ensuring that the behaviour of everyone in the community behaved responsibly and in a socially acceptable manner.

Not surprisingly, Pottstown’s suggestion evoked accusations from local people of engineering further revenue streams or cost savings (similar to many of the accusations levelled at the Big Society concept). But vox pop also, interestingly, highlighted the issue of the Borough’s refuse collectors (or “trash haulers” as they are called over there) dropping rubbish on their rounds. Yes – I think we all know about that and you can just imagine a local resident appearing in court, accused of not keeping their house frontage free of litter, only to throw the accusation back in the Borough’s face by pointing out that it was the Borough’s own workforce or contractors who dropped the rubbish.

Another interesting issue raised was that of rented properties. Councils in this country experience huge problems with private landlords whose tenants leave their curtilages heaving with rubbish and discarded furniture. Perhaps the Pottstown law would force the landlords to take a greater interest in their tenants’ behaviour. It might at least ensure that landlords took more trouble to draw to their tenants’ attention what the local procedures were for litter, rubbish and other potentially antisocial issues.

Overall, the reaction to Pottstown’s intended law seems to have been positive and the Borough has instructed its solicitor to draft a littering ordinance for further debate.

So – what are the chances of this happening over here ? Do let me know what you think.

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