There’s a theory in criminology that if communities seek to prevent small crimes like vandalism, they will create an atmosphere of law and order that should also prevent more serious criminal activities from occurring.
In short, order preserves order.
There seems to be a corollary when it comes to trash: Litter begets litter, and lots of it.
Just ask German Vazquez, Fort Worth’s Code Compliance field operations superintendent.
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He recently told the Star-Telegram’s Sandra Baker that, "If you get used to seeing litter, it becomes a natural sight."
The ultimate result is people litter more and pick up less.
Fort Worth, like many cities and municipalities around the nation, has seen a significant uptick in litter in recent years.
Between October 2014 and September of this year, the city picked up more than 900,000 pounds of rubbish and more than 3,500 tons of illegally dumped garbage.
But while litter is increasing, the city’s resources to handle it are not.
Fewer crews of court-ordered community service workers are available days, making the challenge for the city all the more daunting.
It’s not clear what is causing the increase in litter, although a combination of factors is probably to blame, the largest one being the rapid population growth.
More people produce more garbage.
But it doesn’t mean we should be tolerating more litter as a result.
According to city code, private property owners have an obligation to maintain their properties free of litter, and many do.
But everyone has an obligation to help keep communal spaces — parks, roads, fields, waterways, etc. free of rubbish.
For its part, the city will be reinforcing the notion that littering is a crime, conducting community outreach, and enlisting the assistance of businesses and organizations with a vested interest in keeping Fort Worth clean.
Still, as Vazquez suggests, the problem needs a more basic solution. "We can throw millions of dollars at it," he said, "but we need the citizens to help us."
Events like the annual Cowtown Great American Cleanup each spring are a great way for citizens to help with litter abatement.
But residents don’t need an organized effort to help clean up their communities. Remembering to regularly pick up stray wrappers and cans while on a daily walk or a visit to the park will have a cumulative impact on the community.
Litter is a community problem and it requires a community solution.