Cleaning Up This Town

Apologies for skipping last week’s blog post. I was caught between jet-lag and travel-logistics, having just flown into Ireland. WHAT a beautiful country, so beautiful in fact, that I remarked to a local that I didn’t think I’d seen a single piece of litter outside of a major city.

There’s a reason for that! A reason why billboards are mightily discouraged, why flowers are on abundant display, and why the beaches are immaculate. Some bright soul took the basic Irish penchant for tidiness and launched the Tidy Town competition. This contest is divided into nine divisions based on the size of the competing entity (small village, medium city, and so forth), and the rules go like this:

Each town takes on its eyesores, civic problems, and social shortcomings as best it can with a combination of volunteer, donated, and municipal resources. If somebody’s shed is doing the Big Oggly right by the road, the hardware store might donate the material for a new roof, the garden center might spring for window boxes and flowers, and a dozen pensioners and teens might provide the labor to turn the eyesore into a quaint rural fixture such as postcards are made of.

The prize for winning a tidy town award is a chunk of cash, and part of the submission is a plan for what the town will do with that money. One place might need a tot lot, another might propose (and did propose) to change EVERYBODY’s lighting–public and private–to LED, thus saving money in the long term and benefiting the environment.

The contest is judged by trained volunteers who pop in on each contestant several times a year unannounced, and the consolation prize for the losers is an honest, thorough report on the state of the town, both positive and negative. If your town wins a Tidy Town award, your property values will increase for at least several years immediately following.

I like this idea a lot. It’s a way for people not central to the work force–the unemployed, post- and pre-employed–to jump in and make a difference. Neighborliness between businesses and residents, different areas of town, and different walks of life is encouraged. Resources are shared and community relationships are strengthened. Some potential exists for the competition to make things worse–squabblers are going to squabble–but the Irish have found this program to have overwhelmingly positive results.

If I were on my local Tidy Town committee, and I took a look around at what we need, what would be at the head of my list? The question is complicated because, though I’ve lived three miles outside the same dot on the map for nearly 30 years, I still don’t know the place very well. Oops.

If you were turned loose with a Tidy Town challenge, where would you start? What would you prose to do for your neighbors with the prize money? (And can you imagine a series of small town romances based on this premise?)

To one commenter, I will send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card.

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8 comments on “Cleaning Up This Town

  1. In my town which used to be a village fifty years ago and now has the status of a small town broke away from the nearest big town council things have changed for the better.I have noticed a TCL approach(tender loving care).A small team of employed people are responsible for cleaning the streets and collecting rubbish.Repairs seem to be fixed quicker and there seems to be a proud approach of our town that was not there before.Different clubs for young and old have appeared run by volunteers.This weekend we have a literacy festival taking place in different venues.Authors and public speakers are sharing their stories.Local schools are also involved.Workshops are open to all.I shall go this afternoon to support my youngest granddaughter with her entry of a story about a misunderstood ghost that haunts a local building.It goes to prove that people who work and live together can create a community bond that shows in their little town.Long may it survive.

  2. We already have something like that around here but it’s just for individual homeowners and businesses. Once a year, folks enter (and I have no idea why the particular places who win, win ’cause they’re ALL pretty pretty!)and then there are finalists. We know they’re finalists because they have a sign on their lawns. When the winners are announced, winners are allowed and encouraged to display their *Beautification Award* (and it’s a very tasteful plaque)until the next year’s finalists are chosen and I think they can keep them up indefinitely. There are also holiday decorating awards–and there are rules–but we’ve never entered any of these contests because I don’t have time to. Nice idea but folks get a bit NUTZ about this! 🙂

    Back to your question–we here in the Midwest are big litterer. Something about empty farmland makes folks want to throw their candy wrappers out the car windows. I don’t make the rules–they just do. And it’s not just the empty landscape that gets it but almost anywhere. It’s better than it used to be but still…..I would have teams from local high schools do a once a month clean up along the worst littered streets. The team with the most trash wins a gift card for ITunes–or whatever is popular with the kids–and bragging rights.

    Money for Tidy Town awards around here? Plants to continue the beautification!

    And yes, I can imagine a series of small town romances (revisit some of your Scottish/Maryland/Montana friends perhaps?)based on the Tidy Town premise.

  3. Oh man, how lovely that would be! We’re still solidly in the midst of hurricane cleanup, with devastation still littering the landscape everywhere. I would take the prize money and restore parks and plant a lot of trees. It is god awful hot here because we have no shade, and no soothing outdoor spaces for anyone. It hurts everyone’s hearts to see torn up tree stumps and weeds everywhere you turn.

  4. My town is a very pretty colonial style settled in 1720 & chartered in 1760 – the center is very charming & well kept up, as are most houses. But two doors down from me is a house that has been left unattended. The story we’ve gotten is that the owner is living in California (we are in NJ) & he pays the taxes. The grass gets overgrown, but apparently the man down the road occasionally mows it. The drive is cracked with weeds growing thru it, a gutter has fallen down across the garage doors. And I’ve heard there is a large hole in the back porch roof. We are on a main county road off the center of town so a lot of people drive by. That’s the kind of place that could use immediate attention. I don’t know if the town has any recourse as long as the property taxes are paid.

  5. In my neighborhood we have a vigilante landscaper retiree. He is amazing; he prunes trees, beautifies traffic islands, helps the patrols on the busy streets to and from school, chops ice when the drains freeze and the melt has no where to go.

    If I were to create a Tidy Town challenge, I would gather a small army of retiree gardeners and put plants and flowers everywhere. Trees would go everywhere a tree could go. I think even a little bit of nature makes a difference in people’s lives. I love the project Bette Midler has in NYC and would love to replicate that but include barren stretches of sidewalk to receive makeovers.

  6. For some reason my brain went to the movie Hot Fuzz where some town members were willing to do anything to win a similar contest.

    But as for my town, living in my part of Texas, water is a major resource that is not properly used. I would start by implementing/enforcing the use of only native plants and grasses that required MUCH less water for all city properties, businesses, and new construction. I’d force all HOAs to revoke rules requiring plants that are super thirsty. I would also put an end to the city ignoring water conservation rules by over watering during the heat of the day and revoke laws allowing businesses to water anytime regardless of the rules. Contrary to popular opinion there are tons on native plants that can stay gorgeous during the heat of the summer with minimal watering. I would use the prize money to help residents convert their landscaping to natives, which would save them money in the long run on their water bills.

  7. We had a town councillor that signed us up for something similar for a number of years. No prize $$, just bragging rights.

    Our setting is breathtaking, a river valley running between two mountain ranges. The hills are wooded, lower slopes support a variety of vineyards and orchards and the valley bottom forms neat squares of alfalfa, timothy, canola, barley…

    We need the vigilante, paid and bonded, to train, organize and supervise the maintenance. The largest portion of our population is over 70.

  8. The Senior Center in the town where I live (population about 7500) is a private organization chartered as a 501-c3 non profit. We purchased our own building in the spring, but that really made a large dent in our endowment. The building used to be a church, but had been empty for a considerable period of time. We have had some renovations done for the inside of the building, but the outside needs a lot of loving care.

    So we need to clean up the area around the building, and decide what to plant in order to make the environment nicer on the eyes.

    So I would try to get people to clean up the area, and then use the prize money to purchase young trees and cages or fencing to protect them from roaming deer and elk!