Keeping the city clean…

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…is about changing the culture.

The LA Times has an interesting article about efforts to clean up the area around Macarthur Park.

Gil Cedillo, the local council-member, has targeted millions of dollars of city funds to try to clean up garbage residents leave around.

The solution has little to do with more garbage pick-ups. Why? In my experience, once people realize that someone is going to regularly come andpick up large items from a particular spot, that spot becomes the place people leave large items.

So, what’s the solution?

Most of the people who live in Westlake / Pico-Union come from other countries with different norms around sanitation. It’s not really that strange. Have you watched the Mad Men episode where Don and Betty take the kids to the park for a picnic and just leave their trash on the ground? That was the norm here as recently as the 1960s / 1970s.

What changed? Well, large fines were enacted for littering. But who do you know who has ever received one of those tickets?

Mostly, what changed was that government and private groups mounted huge education campaigns intended to stigmatize the act of throwing garbage on the ground. The campaigns were of such size and duration that they succeeded in changing the norms across the entire culture.

The problem is that most of the people who live in Westlake and Macarthus Park have not yet acculturated to American norms. This isn’t their fault, any more than it would be our fault if someone dropped us in Guatemala and blamed us for not knowing how to conduct ourselves in the tienda or on the guagua.

What is needed is massive public outreach, via Spanish advertising and English school discussions, explaining why it’s not OK to leave trash around. My guess is that a few years of sustained effort followed by regular “refreshers” would do the trick.

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