Respect for public property

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The wave of enthusiasm and appreciation that erupted with the opening of the new and improved shoreline along Jeddah’s Corniche last week was soon followed by a sense of disappointment as vandals began to leave their mark with damage and destruction to some of the fixtures meant for public comfort and convenience. Added to that is the careless littering that shows no signs of abatement.

It seems that with much of the fanfare of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 announcement, some assume that they have been granted a license to destroy and litter. This is not the first instance of a newly opened public facility that was soon littered or vandalized. Somewhere along the path toward modernization, have we lost the chapter on proper civic duty?

With its geographical location by the Red Sea, and the relaxed and diverse nature of its inhabitants, the city of Jeddah remains the premier magnet for thousands of Saudis who make their journey to this city. A resident quickly notices such a mass migration by changes of patterns on the roads and in public places, such as shopping malls.

That naturally contributes to traffic jams that are an ongoing inconvenience and that, unfortunately, are expected to continue. In some parts of the city, traffic has gotten much worse, with residents as well as visitors increasingly showing a lack of respect for proper roadside manners. The unfamiliarity of the city roads leads a lot of visitors to commit some major traffic errors such as driving on the wrong side of the road or driving extremely slow or fast on our freeways.

As the city becomes crowded, drivers often park their cars on the sidewalk leaving no room for pedestrians to get by, forcing them to walk in the street. Where are the authorities who should be monitoring such blatant traffic violations? The Saher cameras are not set up to capture such abuse.

What is disturbing is that those who litter the city’s streets and parks seem to give absolutely no thought to what they are doing. Litter including empty soda cans is flung out of the windows of speeding vehicles and onto sidewalks or dropped on the paths of the city’s parks. You can be sure that paper or plastics are thrown just about everywhere except the nearest garbage can. Some people persist in habits that make this city dirty. Very few do it because they don’t know better. It’s more a case of people thinking that there is someone in blue coveralls around the corner who will soon pick up their mess. Their laziness is why trash is not bagged and put in appropriate containers.

A father who carelessly flings trash out of his car window while driving and without giving it a further thought is often observed by his offspring, who one day will end up doing the same. An employer or a fellow worker not committed to his civic duty can inadvertently influence others to adopt bad habits.

It would be unfair to suggest that all our trash and littering comes from visitors to the city. On the contrary, residents contribute a lot it, either on the roads or the seashore. We cannot expect the authorities to continue picking up the mess we carelessly leave behind. The authorities in recent times have put a lot of effort into cleaning up the city and improving its facilities. But the response from residents and tourists alike does not augur well. It is indeed the lack of respect for our surroundings and the absence of collective will to do something about the problem that has created this disregard for our public conveniences.

There are many laws on the books that are against littering, and new ones are being written every day. But as all long-time residents know, the laws are rarely enforced, thus giving a blank check to vandals and litterbugs.

Vandalism and littering will not disappear without strict action on the part of the authorities and ourselves. We must discipline ourselves in accordance with our faith and be kind to our neighbors and the environment and uphold the doctrine of respect in every act we perform.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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