Straight Outta Crompton – Get Your Sh!t Off My Street
If you lived just past the No Exit sign on the cul de sac at the end of Alpine Crescent in Alta Vista that may be your sentiment. See, I have four kids who like to leave bikes, balls, trials courses and most of their stuff in the street. I have tried for years to gain control of their neighbourhood takeover with very little success. Just when I think I have figured it out and built the right shed or storage area, a new game or a new neighbour kid changes the game and I am losing again. The movement of my children’s toys is unstoppable. My kids own the street!
If you ask me who owns the Alta Vista cul de sac, my answer is clear… neighbourhood kids. If you ask me who owns the public space elsewhere my answer has always been the same as everyone I spoke to this week: “the government”. Sometime between leaving our bike on our personal parking lot in the street and graduating High School we learn that public space is owned by the government. For as long as I can remember I have perceived public spaces as “owned” by the mayor and his/her friends. It has led me to a lot of magical and wrong thinking the worst of which is… I can’t adjust the way my town operates.
This week my mind was changed by Cheakamus Crossing and a guy from Toronto.
There are bus stops in Cheakamus Crossing that litterbugs like to decorate with all kinds of nasty. Cheakamus Crossing residents have been requesting the RMOW put in garbage cans, to no avail. The position of the RMOW is that there is centralized garbage pickup in all the CC strata and on the buses. Bin placement and maintenance is expensive so the hope is that people can get their garbage from their house to the bus. The problem is… it is likely that most of the litterbugs are Whistler newbs. A conundrum.
So, facing this trashvalanche a hero stepped from the shadows. Marc Belair the manager of the Whistler Youth Hostel organized an “adopt a stop” program. Residents jumped on it and households have taken responsibility for the beautification of CC and their particular stops. I am not sure if CC adopters are as excited about their new responsibility as I am, but I think the result of a frustrating situation is a pretty cool development: public ownership of public space.
At first glance it looks like more like: public responsibility for public space… and what is so great about that? I think what gets me excited is that with responsibility comes some discovered rights and vice versa. In the same way that I have always viewed public spaces as “owned” by the mayor, I have also viewed them as static and unchangeable (unless the mayor says so). But if you are the caretaker of the bus stop its hard for the bosses to tell you not to plant tulips. After all… pubic space is called PUBLIC space!
For me it is a change of mind. I want my kids to see a world they can influence. I want to see a world I can influence. And that brings me to the guy from Toronto. Dave Meslin is his name and he calls himself a community choreographer but most would probably say ‘activist’. Whatever you call Dave he is a creative genius, in my mind. His vision is to be creative in his activism work rather than angry. He started by organizing permit-less street parties and painting his own bike lanes on Toronto streets. The result was a community of people who saw Toronto as a place they could change… as a place that was malleable. Whatever you think of his “radical” actions, what it does show is that the world we live in is malleable.
I think a community where public spaces are owned by the public is probably a more interesting place, if not a better place. So the Cromptons have decided to adopt the Alta Vista bus stop at the mailboxes. We went by today and unfortunately the sign has actually been ripped down… tough start. My hope is that in a couple months people will think of our bus stop as a great place to be! The love of my life and my eldest spent the morning making fun of my bus stop. “Maybe a free lemonade stand, or a coffee stand… best bus stop in Whistler”… they mock, but we’ll see who’s laughing in a couple months.
I hope a community like CC, actively taking care of their commons, will make it more likely that newcomers and serial garbage throwers will start to share that valuing of the commons. I am now convinced my home (Whistler) is malleable and interested people with a desire to make changes, can. Maybe, I’ll even be able to get my kids’ sh!t off the street!