Although I am now living in Tokyo, across the Pacific in San Francisco I have a public garden that extends onto the sidewalk. Last week I heard by email from a neighbor that he called the police non-emergency number at 7 in the evening because someone was sleeping in front of my building. A few days later a friend asked if I knew that my plants got “smushed” and then Twittered the photo above.
The photo above shows the damage and garbage left behind. Although I have marveled at the safety of Tokyo streets that permits salary men (and ladies) to be passed out in public, Tokyo people are shocked when I tell them how filthy the streets of San Francisco are. Garbage, vandalism, and thousands of people living in the streets with obvious mental health and heavy drug addictions.
I have no easy answer for the break-down in social bonds that allows so much human misery to exist in public in the world’s richest country. In my observations, the wealthy of San Francisco live on hills that are either inaccessible to the homeless or policed more severely; the wealthy use private automobiles and ignore the streets. Those in mixed income neighborhoods become accustomed to dirty and unsafe public streets, and make themselves comfortable inside their homes.
Streets are the largest public spaces in any city. It is sad when they are feared more than enjoyed.