Our public spaces violated

Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Perhaps vandalism should prompt disappointment and irritation rather than the stronger emotion of ire. After all, it involves property rather than more serious personal violence and the attacks are on public facilities, not personal possessions.

There, surely, are far more important things in life than a few broken trees and car tracks on sports fields and road verges. But vandalism, like that perpetrated in Dunedin recently, angers - and so it should.

In one incident, gum trees alongside Portsmouth Dr, planted in an attempt to make the area near the Andersons Bay inlet more attractive, were snapped in half. New trees in the area were also damaged in a similar incident two years ago. Meanwhile, a driver of a vehicle had cut up Prospect Park by driving on it in the snow.

Other parks and grass areas were also damaged as the snow brought out the worst in some drivers, particularly some 4WD owners. While members of the Land Rovers Owners Club Otago in delivering meals on wheels and the Otago Recreational 4WD Group and Red Cross volunteers in ferrying Southern District Health Board staff were admirably going the extra miles in public service, others in 4WDs were playing with their toys and leaving scars.

While every bit of destruction strains limited Dunedin City Council budgets, what is probably most significant is the hurt to public esteem and morale. It is discouraging for community groups and for councils and their staff when hard work is wrecked overnight. It is unpleasant to be aware that fellow citizens engage in wanton damage.

It is hard to keep on repairing and replacing when that effort might be knocked back again. For example, let us hope the recent replanting of several trees along Hillside Rd by the DCC, replacing victims of earlier "mindless" attacks by unknown vandals, proves successful. Surely that bleak, industrial part of South Dunedin could do with some uplifting greenery.

If despondency is in danger of setting in, it is worth remembering that vandalism is nothing new and need not be seen as a sign of modern moral decay. Readers of the 100 Years Ago column on this page will have noticed references to delinquents and unruly behaviour over the years of the 19th and early last century.

Groups, often males, have egged each other on to throw stones, smash letterboxes or whatever through the ages, sometimes just to cause mischief and sometimes as a pathetic display of pseudo macho behaviour.

Alcohol has often loosened inhibitions, and perpetrators often are not just the disadvantaged or those with no stake in society.

There seems always to have been something rooted in human nature that receives a thrill from such behaviour. The causes of last week's riots in England were complex and unemployment and a feeling of pointlessness and disengagement with society were all issues. But the urge to be a larrikin and cause trouble and damage just for the sake of it was among the motives.

It might well be that disregard for others, a weakening of moral values and a loosening of the strictures and disciplines of society have made these problems steadily worse in recent decades.

Today's youths are also much more mobile in where they can go and what they can do, potentially escalating the scope of vandalism.

The modern world, however, might also be able to provide the means to curb excesses.

Perpetrators are caught more often these days and mobile phone cameras should allow individuals and vehicle number plates to be recorded more often and more easily. It is not just valued trees that can be snapped.

The indignant public, therefore, has a means at hand with which to respond in a practical way, a positive thought. And it is particularly worth remembering that indignation and ire are indicators of civic pride.

When Dunedin, and even more so smaller centres like Alexandra, suffer at the hands of vandals, it is important that citizens do care and that they do not just shrug their shoulders.

We should feel violated and hurt when our public places are damaged because they are ours and they are important to us. If we do not care and we do not work to undo the damage, then vandalism will escalate and civic pride will have dissipated.


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