Taking ownership of public spaces

The litter that 13,000 fans left behind at the recent Laneway Festival speaks volumes about the callous disregard for the environment exhibited by wayward users of public spaces.

Singapore is supposed to be different from places where public filth is taken for granted. Here, the effort to achieve a Clean and Green City has been pursued by the state for years. Examples include the cleaning of the Singapore River, nurturing of trees, building of parks, and creation of Gardens by the Bay. Such initiatives attest to a constant and consistent national endeavour to develop an ecosystem that serves both the aesthetic and the material needs of residents and visitors.

Since people, wherever they come from, do not give a second thought to dirtying an already soiled environment, the challenge was to offer spaces clean enough to be worthy of being cared about. This has been achieved by and large. It now behoves all who live here to take joint ownership of this sparkling environment.

Suggestions by some online commentators that the post-festival mess was created by foreign visitors was, pardon the pun, rubbish. Many of those at the music festival hailed from these shores, and turning this into another occasion for anti-foreigner ranting does no one any credit. Much better to squarely address the reasons for the bad habits displayed and work to do something about it.

What the festival-goers demonstrated was that they expected to be constantly served by a battery of cleaners following in their wake - picking up trash, clearing trays or mopping up in public spaces. Indeed, it does take a whole army of cleaners to keep the nation spic and span - a job that few Singaporeans want to do. How long can this continue? If locals or foreigners refuse to clean up their own mess, everyone will suffer. For all, the message is the same: Respect shared spaces because these are for all to enjoy.

Public areas can fulfil their role of bringing people together in a congenial setting only when all are prepared to take a personal interest in their upkeep. The logic is simple: Everyone is free to enjoy public amenities and - because they belong to all, and not to, as they say, one's grandfather - there is a duty to ensure that others can derive similar pleasure from them, too.

It's bad enough to not bother about public cleanliness, but to create a mess purposefully is far worse. Singaporeans should not turn a blind eye to such acts. If enough people speak up against litterbugs - and do so civilly - it would help to enforce minimum standards of public behaviour. As Singapore matures, this should become second nature. Otherwise, it will be always seen as a cleaned-up, rather than clean, nation.