Molly Fisk: Spring Cleaning the Whole Darn Town

Living in this modern world, most of us realize we just cannot do everything. And we definitely can’t do everything all the time. I’d love to attend each art opening and musical event my town offers, but I’d never get any poems written if I did. Plus, I’d soon go bankrupt. I’d like to support my favorite causes at all the benefits they throw, but I’d be going out 365 nights a year. The laundry would rot in the washer, the cats would forget my name, and to paraphrase W. B. Yeats as sung by Joni Mitchell, “Things would fall apart: the center would not hold.”

Being a rational person who works for a living and tries to keep up with her friends, health, and creative life causes me to miss out on some amazing things, and I have mostly made peace with this. But last week our town organized a new event, and I’m sorry I didn’t participate, because it sounded like so much fun.

I hadn’t really been paying attention, but apparently our downtown has been suffering a lot of graffiti vandalism lately. Despite regular attempts to remove the tagged areas and repaint, the situation has been getting slowly worse. After some ad hoc meetings, local citizens, merchants, the city Police and Fire Departments, Chamber of Commerce, and the Public Works people cooked up a town-wide spring-cleaning effort in order to turn this trend around.

I’m so happy to live in a place where people figure out how to make our communal life better, and get together and just do it!

You probably remember the “Broken Window” theory. It states if you leave broken windows in a building unrepaired, showing an attitude of neglect, pretty soon more windows will be smashed, and then the building itself will be attacked and larger crimes  take place in the area. Fixing the windows stops this cascading behavior, and people respect property and maintain a level of cleanliness and order.

So last week, 175 volunteers brought their own tools and over the course of three mornings washed Nevada City’s windows, walls, and sidewalks, primed everything in sight, and repainted curbs and historic gas lamp posts. They completely redid the facade of one business and spruced up a 10-block area within an inch of its life. Firefighters refreshed the hydrants. Police-persons painted call boxes. A local cafe owner walked around with hot coffee for the workers, and everyone seemed to have a pretty wonderful time.

Just driving through town you don’t notice a big change, though everything seems a little more vivid. It’s when you stop to look closely that you see how bright the green 10-minute parking curb is now, and the windows of the hat store. Plants in local parks were pruned. The Rotary Club cleared our creek-bed of an incredible amount of trash.

I’m so happy to live in a place where people figure out how to make our communal life better, and get together and just do it!  Some of the volunteers were homeless local citizens, too, wielding squeegees and paint brushes.

A thousand thanks to all of you, and I’ll be there next time, I promise!


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  • Ildiko March 6, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Dear Molly, thank you for sharing this story. It inspired me to get involved in our community and look for opportunities to help.

    • Molly Fisk March 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      I’m so glad this has inspired you! Pass it on. We’re all in this together, no matter where we live. xo

  • Molly Fisk March 4, 2017 at 10:46 am

    I hear you. When things get pretty bad, I return to a quote from Utah Phillips: “Too many people are doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic.”

    In looking for the exact words just now on Dr. Google, I found the bigger excerpt, and it’s worth reading also: “You know, every city, every town I go to, for the past forty years, big or little, I have found cooperative child day care, an organic food store, alternative medicine services, all of the interventions, none of which existed when I was in high school. Anywhere. Now they are everywhere I go. Taken together, that is a massive amount of energy. A tremendous amount of energy! That is why I am so optimistic. There are too many people doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic. I’m like Desmond Tutu says, I am a prisoner of optimism. I cannot betray that kind of optimism.”

    • hillsmom March 4, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks Molly, did you sing the song that was in “South Pacific”? Yes, I know before your time… =^..^=

  • hillsmom March 4, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Dear Molly, I guess that shows what we can accomplish working together…good for you all. Unfortunately, politically speaking IMO, things are falling apart and there doesn’t seem to be any center. Sigh…=^..^=

    • Molly Fisk March 4, 2017 at 10:41 am

      We can. The space inside our heads, and then the spaces around us. With each others’ help for the bigger jobs. It’s good practice for coping with the state of the world.

  • Wendl in Manhattan March 4, 2017 at 7:12 am

    This news cheered my heart. Although we may feel like so much is out of our control, singly and in community,we can still bring beauty and order to our own space.