Written by: Executive Director Dominic Tartaglia
A strong sense of community is an integral component to building and maintaining a vibrant Downtown that is loved by all of its users. If measuring that sense of community is any indicator as to how much Downtown SLO is loved, last month proved that our community is head over heals for their Downtown neighborhood. On June 6th the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association organized the first annual #DowntownProud clean up day with nearly 100 volunteers gearing up with work gloves and scrub brushes and taking to the streets for a combined 270 hours. The time that they dedicated to cleaning Downtown was nothing short of amazing and much appreciated by business owners and guests.
The idea for doing a community supported clean up day developed organically at a committee meeting as a way to tackle the tough chore of keeping up with the demands of a highly trafficked city core. Business owners were sitting in the meeting talking about the various chores that they observed needed attention when one of the committee members brought up the idea of creating a celebration of a clean Downtown as a fun solution to this challenge. Once the committee started talking about the idea it became clear that this would be a fun way to bring community members together and to get to know our neighbors. The use of the hash tag prefix came about as a way for volunteers to share their pride in a clean Downtown and spread the word to their friends with social media, selfies welcome!
With the help of The Home Depot, SLO Garbage and Jamba Juice the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association was able to coordinate donated cleaning supplies, a 6 yard dumpster and free smoothies for volunteers. When volunteers showed up on the morning of the event they found an organized grid overlay of the nearly 1 million square-feet Downtown area and an assignment with other volunteers from various walks of life. There were children and retirees, Downtown business owners and public officials and even local residents present and they all had the same goal to do whatever was asked of them to keep our district shining. The strong sense of community pride was proven as volunteers polished filthy trashcans, scraped gum off of sidewalks and picked up cartons of old cigarette butts in just three hours time. Trust me, it takes a lot of commitment to stick your hands in one of those trashcans to wipe down the funk that builds up in there.
As I watched the volunteers descend on the tasks in front of them I wondered what it was that compelled them to give up a Saturday morning to clean up a mess that wasn’t theirs. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized the answer to that question. They showed up because they identify Downtown as their sense of place. These buildings and sidewalks are the backdrop to the story of their lives and it only makes sense that they would want a picturesque backdrop so that they can be proud to share what is happening in their life with their friends. The hash tag just happened to be the ironic symbol for the importance of this effort on just one morning. When we post an image to Instagram or Facebook with the #DowntownProud following it, we are telling a story of a highlighted moment in our life. Generally speaking, most of those ducklips and selfiesticks are a proud moment that just so happen to fall into the neighborhood that, in our office, we call #DowntownSLO.
So as people ask me if we plan to do another clean up day I respond, “Absolutely!” The enthusiasm that the community and the businesses have for a clean, safe and inviting Downtown has encouraged me to look at what we can do differently next time to make an even bigger impact. The beauty of this being the first annual clean up day is that we have plenty of room to improve and just as much room for more extra pairs of willing hands. If you are interested in helping out with the next clean up day please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will be happy to add you to our list of community supporters. The next clean up date is uncertain at this point but in the meantime there are ongoing things that we can all do to help. Feel free to pick up a piece of garbage off the street and snap a shot of yourself tossing it into the trashcan with a #DowntownProud, just remember to hash tag responsibly. We don’t want to be responsible for an unfortunate selfiestick accident.