Do we need more enforcement? Or more conversation?

I attended a great meeting this evening regarding trash, rats and other student housing related issues Georgetown University, local leaders and concerned neighbors are trying admirably to try to solve along a two block area just off campus.

As we went around the room, a lot of people were recommending “reminder” signs students could tape to their doors to remember to take out the trash, harsher penalties from the university, tougher fines on landlords, and other enforcement/oversight type remedies.

But no one, no one mentioned actually talking with students. In fact, no students were even present [although they did make that recommendation near the end of the meeting].

The truth is none of these young adults have ever paid a mortgage, most have never purchased appliances or spent an afternoon manicuring their lawns, never paid a utility bill or been worried about their property values because of their neighbor’s messy front yard. So rather then craft new penalties, why not at least try to have a conversation.

This was the idea behind this blog and the social tools linked here. Have a conversation. If people wanted to join in, they could. If they wanted to listen, they could. If they wanted to pull down a few items and never come back again they could. And we hope it’s working.

There are real legal and financial penalties for real issues that put people in danger, don’t get us wrong. And we can, will and should cite housing code violations as often as we see them. Call 202-442-9557 today and we’ll come. But the problems discussed this evening can be solved more easily and will never be solved permanently unless we stop thinking less in terms of penalties. Why not offer rewards? Instead of posting warnings, hand them reminders. Instead of sending threatening letters, stand on the corner or knock on the door and say hello. Students aren’t unreasonable. If they realize that tossing trash outside, unsealed is the reason there are rat droppings all over their living room floor, they’ll get it.

And then if these efforts fail. If they refuse to acknowledge the problem and are cavalier, then let’s throw the book at them. But first we should try to convince rather than intimidate. It hasn’t worked for decades, and probably won’t work now.