Monday, March 15, 2010

The Streets of Springtime

I’ve just returned to Edmonton from a two-week holiday on Saltspring Island. Our traveling threesome-my partner Barb and our English cocker spaniel pup Zak and I - had a great time enjoying the many attributes of Saltspring.
Being a spaniel, Zak is nose-driven, and he was overwhelmed with a whole new array of scents, as well as the croaking ravens and the miniature Island deer. As his primary walker, I experienced his excitement at this new place, and I learned something new about my personal community values.
Community cleanliness is very important to me. I don’t like litter. Those of you who have experience walking a pup know how attractive street trash is to dogs. That attraction means that we clearly see the litter on sidewalks and streets.
There is a huge difference between walking Zak in Edmonton and on Saltspring. Why? There was almost no street or road litter on Saltspring. One sees pinecones, earthworms- even banana slugs-, but none of the coffee cups or empty cigarette packages or takeout food wrappers or flyaway advertising inserts that too often blight the streets and sidewalks of Edmonton.
Why does this difference exist? I have a hunch that it has a lot to do with community values. There is a very powerful community desire and determination to have a clean environment. Students clean the area around their schools, which develops a strong sense of civic responsibility. Service clubs and individuals regularly pick up the small amounts of discarded refuse. As a result, individuals in the Saltspring community feel personally responsible for the cleanliness of their community.
Some of these initiatives are not unique to Saltspring Island. There are communities in Alberta- Alix, which is just east of Red Deer comes to mind- with the same kind of community ethic. Yet I suspect that there are also communities in Alberta where community cleanliness is not a respected value.
Communities can take simple steps to decrease public litter. A municipality can work with advertisers and publishers to stop distribution of advertising and newspapers to households without a secure mailbox. Community associations can work with fast-food outlets to develop outlet-based anti-litter campaigns. School boards can develop anti-litter programs directly involving and empowering students. Dog owners not cleaning up after their pets can be fined.
We’re back home, and Zak and I will continue to navigate the littered springtime streets of southwest Edmonton, picking up trash as we go. We’re certainly open to a change of scenery, so if your community shares our values regarding clean streets, we’d love to visit!