I was tempted to skip this week of blogging because, well…I sent away my modem/router, which is because I’m moving, except those plans were derailed by a wicked storm that simultaneously cast ice and snow across all paths to wifi and contributed to lowering my immune defenses enough that I contracted the flu, which I believe impairs editorial skills.
In short, I didn’t “feel inspired.”
But with nothing better to do than to unpack and repack boxes in search of teabags (and to sulk; some Cornell scientist claims that sulking improves recovery time), I looked out of my window and found my topic for the week: NIMFY.
It’s usually NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), except this is about my front yard.
Someone else on my street is also moving, and they’ve decided to dump everything in front of my residence.
It’s neither random nor malicious; there is a small shared waste disposal area a few steps from my front door. But this person filled those four cans and then proceeded to set out a sagging sofa, dirty floor rugs, several chairs with the stuffing peeking through, broken electrical equipment, cracked wall art, and at least fifteen bags of who knows what. Calls to mind Shel Silverstein’s poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out.”
The sprawling heap is so expansive that municipal waste services refused to pick it up last week. So, it soaked up the storm and is seeping junk juice everywhere, which is freezing into a slippery spread. After the pile thaws, it’ll make a fine home for mice.
I’m painfully aware that with it reaching to my front door, it looks like it came from me. It’s hideous. It’s embarrassing. It looks, as I said to my neighbor who complained to me about parking next to it, like an open landfill.
And then I realized, this is what it’s like on the receiving end when we ship our e-waste overseas. When we build landfills near lower income housing projects because the land there is cheaper. When we dump wastes to travel downstream where we’ll never see it. Out of sight, out of mind.
My first thought was, “This is a waste management issue; we should design better systems of accessing appropriate disposal space.”
But then I thought, “No, it’s also a product design issue; we should design products that can be disposed of more responsibly and at lower volumes.”
But as the week wore on and the heap went from eye irritant and embarrassment to inconvenience and safety hazard, I realized it’s fundamentally a cultural issue.
What we need is a redesign of standards around consumerism. Around sharing resources—we’ve studied the Tragedy of the Commons enough to know why and how it works; it’s time we designed more systems with this human behavioral pattern in mind.
And, as importantly and requiring less legislative hassle, a redesign around what it means to grow up to be a good neighbor. This starts at home and in schools. In our media and in our posture as subtle (or not subtle) role models for each other.
Because we are all neighbors. Every one of us on this planet. What isn’t your backyard could very well be my front yard.