What does your city owe you? We talk about the importance of good governance when it comes to tip-top infrastructure, well-maintained parks and public spaces. High-quality services too, such as good schools and efficient police forces – all of them are important. But cities are made up of people, not bureaucrats.
Just as we reflect on the concept of civic responsibility when it comes to citizens of a nation, we should also be aware of what it means to be a good city resident. We know what you’re thinking: isn’t it obvious? Don’t I already know how to be a good Berliner or an exemplary Vancouverite? Be tolerant, be a good neighbour and vote in local elections – easy. But not everyone practises what they preach. Local elections, for example, have notoriously low turnouts. In the US a dismal 27 per cent of eligible voters actually cast ballots in municipal elections. In the UK the highest voter turnout in local elections was just 51.4 per cent, in 2018.
There also seems to be some confusion over what exactly constitutes being a good neighbour. Cities have evolved in the 21st century and so have mores, manners and modes of conduct. So we’ve come up with a handy rundown of the ways in which you can be a good, engaged urbanite – and help to create a better, friendlier, more liveable city in the process. Read on (and keep voting).
Rule: Look out for others
You’re not alone
Pay attention. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t use your phone to play music or watch TV on public transport without headphones. But how about taking a break from using your phone at all? Too often trains and trams are packed with people sitting lost in their own little world, while the elderly gent in the corner or the woman weighed down with shopping bags is forced to stand. Keep an eye on what’s going on around you.
Rule: Stop snooping
Turn off your camera
Recording your daily life is fun but not always necessary. Know when to mind your own business: no one should have to worry that their every private conversation or encounter is being filmed or shared on social media.
Rule: Keep up to date
It’s there in black and white
Read your local paper. Better yet, subscribe. It’s far more likely than the big nationals to be covering city issues that directly affect you – and it’ll be better equipped to do so with financial support. And once you’ve finished reading, why not leave it neatly folded on the train for someone else to peruse?
Rule: Take action
Ask the neighbours
Wish your building had a rooftop garden? Create one. Gather support, petition the landlord and pool resources to build a shared space, whether it be for barbecues, garden parties or open-air film screenings.
Rule: Be engaged
You can have your say
Show up. Whether it’s running for city council or just making an appearance at meetings, getting involved and keeping informed about what’s going on in your neighbourhood is the first step in shaping your city.
Rule: Branch out
Do you own a business? Why not throw open your doors to the area and its people? Throw summer parties, offer discounts to neighbours and band together with nearby shops for seasonal markets.
Rule: Use your knowledge
Your skills are an asset
Bring your work home. If you have expertise in building or planning, put that to use on your own street or in the nearest park. Build your own public benches or design street furniture – or just spruce up what’s there.
Rule: Chill out
Not everyone is quick
Watch out. It’s great to get the heart pumping with a bracing run – less so to be bundled over by a sweaty jogger who’s forgotten that someone else might need the pavement. Be patient with children or the elderly crossing the road or walking along a little slowly – you’re not in that much of a rush. Likewise for speeding on quiet residential roads, plus cycling or scooting on the pavement.
Rule: Keep it clean
Cities aren’t dumping grounds
Go beyond not littering: invest in a few bins if your neighbourhood is lacking. And if you spot a plastic bag or a discarded piece of cardboard on the ground, shaking your head and tutting won’t do much to solve the problem. So lead by example: pick it up and throw it away.
Rule: Put it away
Use shared services considerately
An increasing number of cities have bike-share and scooter-share programmes – and many of them also have problems with piles of bikes or scooters dumped haphazardly around town. By all means borrow a ride but leave the scooter standing upright in a sensible place when you’re done.
Rule: Show your face
Become a regular. Make yourself known at that Italian restaurant, café or corner salon. You’ll not only be supporting – or helping to create – a neighbourhood institution but you’re more likely to benefit from betterservice; the kind that’s afforded to customers who are also friends. And there’s a potential added bonus: you’re likely to get a new perspective on some neighbourhood gossip.
Rule: Be house-proud
Keep up appearances
Take care of your patch. Keep the front of your house looking neat and tidy: paint your front door occasionally and clean your windows. It’ll not only brighten up your home but will add some life to the street too. And what about a bit more colour? Plant things on your balcony or put pots outside your door – and breathe easy.
Rule: Be tolerant
Forgive and forget
Let the little things go. If your neighbour’s one party a year runs a bit late, skip the snide remarks in favour of a friendly wave the next time you see them. Chances are you’re not the perfect neighbour either.
Rule: Embrace change
Cities are always developing
Not everyone can afford a Georgian pile. Don’t be the bully to block a housing development if it has a chance to sustain the area and bring in new residents. City life is all about change and chance encounters – don’t be a bore.
Rule: Share your space
Don’t let it go to waste
Have your own green space? Share it. Let the folks upstairs use your ground-floor garden. Perhaps your space-strapped neighbour needs somewhere to store her bike – why not in that shed you hardly use?
Rule: Be prepared
Don’t get caught out
It’s not pleasant to contemplate but you should have an idea about what to do in the event of a terrorist incident. From keeping an eye out to knowing the numbers to call and places to go, being reasonably prepared is a realistic rule for city-living in 2019.
Rule: Get involved
Learn about your city
Get in the mix. A well-integrated city is crucial for good quality of life so if you’re new to town – or even the area – branch out and get to know the residents, history and customs.
Rule: Stay close
Support your high street
Frequent the shops in your neighbourhood. Lots of people bemoan the fate of retail – no matter where in the world they live – and many column inches have been devoted to the fact that high streets are changing for the worse. But independent shops and small businesses aren’t being forced to close by some unstoppable force; they need your support. Skip Amazon and take a stroll.
Rule: Be positive
Act like a city ambassador
Be a cheerleader for where you live. Have you ever ventured to a great new city only to notice that all the locals seem to do is put it down? There’s something to be said about the infectious nature of civic pride so boast about your city’s good points – at home and away.
Rule: Break the rules
Cut through the red tape
It might be counterintuitive to include this in a residents’ rulebook – but don’t forget to break the rules once in a while. Do inane city regulations prevent you from planting flowers on your street corner? Try it anyway. Not supposed to drink in public? Sneak a bottle of wine into the park to enjoy with your picnic. Or throw a block party.