The importance of the “public realm” is not widely recognised among the general population in Britain today. The sight of litter on our town streets as well as in the surrounding countryside is symptomatic of our lack of care for the environment.
In the past, there have been national advertising campaigns to encourage people to “take your litter home” at campsites, picnic places and beauty spots. These have largely failed because “that’s someone else’s job to clear up my mess” and “it’s not in my backyard”. Attitudes have hardened into a declining respect for authority in general and a belief that we can do whatever we like, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience ourselves.
It is assumed that the state will provide street-cleaner patrols, just as it has provided doctors and other health workers. Indeed, we might pride ourselves on creating more employment by dropping litter.
As a nation, we now find ourselves heavily in debt and local authorities, under financial pressure, have other priorities than to clear up the mess that we so uncaringly leave around us. We are quick enough to complain about the state of our potholed roads and broken pavements. Isn’t it time that we became more conscious about throwing rubbish out of car windows or dropping litter by hand?
More than ever now, it has become increasingly important that ordinary citizens are encouraged to take ownership of their surroundings. Above all, taking ownership restores our respect for the environment, it widens our enjoyment of the world we live in and makes life more worth living.
A cared-for town is a matter of civic pride. I congratulate Rye Town Council for its initiative in appointing a town steward, but its success will depend largely upon our proactive co-operation as citizens and residents of Rye.