One of the towns I visited recently has a dirty sidewalk problem. It looks like every time it rained, dirt and leaves and stuff wash out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. Pretty messy.
“We did a cleanup project once,” someone said. But dirt, like life, keeps happening.
You’ll have a cleaner town when you start acting like a clean town by cleaning regularly, I said. Then we talked about starting an ongoing sidewalk cleanup campaign, but no one spoke up to take it on. One guy tried to pin it on the chamber director, but I said no.
If no one wants to take the lead, don’t force it on someone. Crowdsourcing is best when it’s something you really want to do.
Then Willow, a business owner, put up her hand and said, “I’ll clean up my sidewalk.”
Perfect! Take pictures, I said. Put it on social media. Hashtag it #CleanYourOwnSidewalkDay and ask everyone to join in. If you hashtag it, it’s a real thing, right?
That’s how the cleaner town will start. It’s better to have one person take one tiny action than to foist a big huge project onto someone or an organization. That’s Idea Friendly in action.
Every time you clean your sidewalk, keep posting it and tagging it. Make a big deal out of how everyone can do their own sidewalk, too. Soon enough, someone will join you; maybe a lot of someones.
I think the end result will be that ongoing cleaning they need. It starts, not with pinning the responsibility on someone to do it for everyone, but with one person cleaning their own sidewalk and inviting others to join them.
After I shared this in my email newsletter (sign up for free here), Ellen Shepard with Community Allies LLC sent me this story and photos:
I worked for sixteen years as the executive director of the economic development organizations in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. In the mid 1960s, the small business owners started a tradition where every morning at 10AM, someone would walk down the main street ringing a bell, wearing a bright yellow-and-blue “Welcome to Andersonville” cape (yellow and blue to celebrate the Swedish history) and carrying a sign that said “Time to clean up!” It was a signal for all the store owners to come out and sweep their sidewalks. It worked!
Alas, these days, the street pays for cleaning through business improvement district funding. Still, I highly recommend the bell-ringer approach!
What I love about this story is Ellen says the small business owners themselves started it. Not the Chamber, not some formal organization, but the people themselves. That’s why it worked.
I’ve also heard back from a friend who doesn’t have a business that he decided to clean up the sidewalk in front of his own house.
How about you? If you do this, post pics online and hashtag it #CleanYourOwnSidewalkDay.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.