On a recent Saturday morning I happened to be out driving from one errand to another. As I approached a stop sign I noticed an older man bending over on the side
of the road, picking up a discarded beer can with his right hand. His left hand clutched a wad of litter. The neighborhood was fairly well-to-do, and it was obvious he
was doing his part to keep his small part of the world clean and attractive. I suspect this was a Saturday morning ritual, perhaps even one that was performed daily.
Twenty minutes later I was at an intersection in another neighborhood in a part of town that had seen better days. I was struck by the sight of trash accumulated
around the base of that stop sign. Litter was scattered at random throughout the area. Several people walked by as if the trash wasn’t there.
This Saturday morning reflection caused me to realize once again that neighborhoods have a life cycle. There is growth, stability, decline then renewal or decay.
One way to determine the current life cycle stage of a neighborhood is the amount of litter strewn about. When neighborhoods are growing and stable, the percentage
of home ownership is high. Even though they may not be responsible for it, members of the neighborhood remove litter when it appears. As home ownership declines,
the newer, non-owner members generally have less pride in the neighborhood as a whole. Some may even be the cause of the litter, whether intentionally or
unintentionally. Have you ever seen someone throw out a cup or wrapper on his or her own street? That’s certainly intentional. Much of the litter on our roadways is
caused — unintentionally, I believe — by trash blowing out of the rears of pick-up trucks.
So what can you do besides picking up litter to help keep your neighborhood in the stability stage of the life cycle? Here are several things that neighbors do in stable
1. Host a driveway get-together on the 4th of July or other holiday. Furnish hot dogs, chips and cold drinks. This is a way for neighbors, especially the less outgoing,
to have a chance to meet each other. Don’t be surprised if it starts driveway or sidewalk events at other neighbors’ homes.
2. Start a neighborhood newsletter. People want to know what’s going on in their neighbors’ lives. The news can be about births, deaths, trips, gardening tips or who
bought a new car.
3. Make sure your neighborhood stays litter-free. Enough said above about this subject.
4. Every time a property comes on the market, find out why the seller is selling. I know of one case where a homeowner had to sell quickly, so the property was listed
at a very distressed price. The neighbors did not want a “low” sale because of the perception it might create. They got together and bought the property, then resold at
market value to a new neighbor who fit right in.
5. Keep up with property tax assessments. They should be going up. No one likes to pay higher taxes, but no one wants property values to go down. Tax
reassessments are required at least every four years in Mississippi, so watch for the changes in your area.
6. Get involved in politics by having someone who is running for public office come to a meeting in your home. This is especially effective if the candidate is running for
a local office. You don’t even have to say whether you support the candidate if you bill it as a neighborhood informational meeting.
7. Publish a neighborhood directory.
8. When a death occurs or a neighbor has a disaster, go to the family’s aid. In the South, that means taking a covered dish to the home at a minimum.
9. Buy stuff from kids who come to the door. This might seem like a trivial item, but it means a lot to the children who are coerced into being door-to-door marketers.
Most often, they are raising money for their schools. A sale to them is a point of pride and an indication that the neighbors care about the kids in the neighborhood.
They will remember your gesture.
10. Hire a neighborhood kid to cut your grass. See number No. 9.
11. On Halloween have a fun exhibit or event in your yard. It’s right around the corner.
These are just a few things that happen in neighborhoods where property values remain high and people want to move to. How many more ideas can you come up
Phil Hardwick’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.