Sometimes, I fear we’re turning into a society of finger-pointers and complainers. I’ve noticed that I particularly tend to feel this way around the time the snow melts away and the dog poop complaints start to mount.
For some members of our community “the City” is somehow responsible for all the dog poop that accumulates over the winter and becomes evident “everywhere” every spring: all over the Riverfront Trail, throughout West Fraser Timber Park, all over the downtown streets, in every neighbourhood. Alongside the cries of ‘shame on the City’ on social media are calls to ‘tag the Mayor,’ supposedly so I’ll be forced to make it the City’s number one priority to get on top of this issue. (Fortunately, some people rightly point out that the shame belongs on the irresponsible dog owners who could make this a non-issue by simply picking up after their dog).
This year, discarded needles and drug paraphernalia has joined dog poop as another issue that “the City” or “Council” or “the Mayor” must address with all of the resources at our disposal. Some people now love to take pictures of errant needles and post them on social media as proof that our City has gone downhill dramatically, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the opioid crisis and the corollary public health issues associated with discarded needles is a world-wide epidemic.
Many of the finger-pointers and social media complainers want tougher bylaws, more bylaw and RCMP officers, steeper fines, bans on dogs in public spaces (and cats and addicts), and they invite people to take pictures of the offending feces or the offending dog owners or the discarded needles and send them to City Hall. They’ll also spend hours on social media complaining and calling for action. In short, expending significant energy complaining and finger-pointing instead of rolling up their sleeves and actually addressing the issue by safely picking up the offending feces or needle when they see it or by organizing a work bee with their friends and neighbours to clean up a particularly problematic area of the community.
Civil society is based on the fundamental premise that people will be responsible for themselves, will voluntarily obey the law, will look out for their neighbours and those less fortunate, and will contribute to the well-being of the community as a whole. A safe, clean, beautiful community cannot be attained by tougher laws, bigger fines, and more police or bylaw officers. A great community is built and sustained by informed and engaged citizens, not more laws, signs, or uniformed enforcers.
Last Monday, city staff and I spent time with the Downtown Business Association (DBA) discussing ways we can minimize the impact of the Reid Street project on businesses in that area. The consultant the DBA brought in to facilitate this session made a critical observation in his introductory remarks that is pertinent to this discussion. He suggested that when we find ourselves saying “somebody should” we need to reframe that as “what can I do;” that is, if I’m bothered by something and think it needs to be resolved then start resolving it rather than pushing the responsibility elsewhere.
No matter what the issue, Council will be better able to address it if those concerned about that particular challenge approach us with informed options, solutions, examples of best practices elsewhere and a willingness to become partners with us in solving the problem.