Amsterdam’s East Main Street, one of the primary gateways into the Rug City, is looking a little less shabby after last week’s two-day spruce-up performed by community volunteers. It’s the kind of activity that a number of cities in the region — big or small — could benefit from.
One of the big problems with urban blight is that it’s contagious, like any number of things that affect an inner-city’s quality of life. People may be offended — even shocked — by the first abandoned shopping cart, pile of curbside garbage or broken window they see on their street; but after awhile, as they encounter more and more such eyesores, they don’t seem to mind them so much. Eventually, they may stop caring themselves, letting their own properties slip. And that’s when neighborhood decay really sets in.
Well, it appears to have set in years ago in Amsterdam’s East End, aided and abetted by the city’s chronically depressed economy and a hideous urban plan that carved up the city’s downtown commercial district. Some of Amsterdam’s problems are structural, others are economic, but still others are simply a matter of aesthetics and The Golden Rule: picking up litter, pulling weeds and applying fresh coats of paint one house at a time.
These small, free or relatively cheap gestures may also be the most effective if they can change the way people think about their community, and thus the way they behave. That, as much as any reason, is why last week’s volunteer effort in Amsterdam was so welcome.