With broom in hand, J.L. Hooymayers turned around his inner city neighbourhood .
J.L. Hooymayers and his neighbours worried that their Rotterdam inner city neighbourhood was going to the dogs. Everyone complained most about how the litter wasn’t being picked up, blaming the city government. Hooymayers, however, had a different approach to fixing the problems: he started to clean up the mess himself.
“Well, someone’s got to do it, right?” he says. Hooymayers, who has lived on the street for more than 40 years, remembers when it all began in 1989. “People were unhappy, there was a lot of crime and the street was going downhill. The city wasn’t doing anything and no one trusted it would. A neighbourhood meeting was planned. It was a mess. People were rude. Nothing came out of it.”
Then Hooymayers got up and said, “We can keep saying over and over that the city needs to solve the problem, but we can also take the initiative ourselves, right? Why is the street so dirty? Because we are dumping our trash on it, not some city employee. It’s our street!” The next morning Hooymayers went to the store and bought a couple of brooms and a group of neighbours set to work sweeping.
The residents then decided they wanted more streetlights for added safety. The city said an extra streetlamp would cost at least $2,000 U.S.. Nothing happened. So Hooymayers bought a couple of large white light bulbs and a five-meter extension cord and created his own street lighting. In the same way, plants were added to make the street more attractive.
Hooymayers’ efforts sparked a city-wide series of neighbourhood campaigns-referred to as “upzooming”- where residents took the initiative to improve the quality of life in their area. There are now hundreds of streets in Rotterdam involved in such campaigns and a similar neighbourhood project has been launched in the U.S. city of Baltimore. After all, Hooymayer says, any neighbourhood can keep its streets clean and safe. You don’t have to be a city employee for that.