Friday, July 24, 2009

Self-interest and the public good

click photo to enlarge
It's not uncommon to walk down a street and see house and garden after house and garden that are a credit to their owners. The building facades are tidy, mortar is properly pointed, windows are clean, woodwork is well-painted, gardens have colour, interest and evidence of thoughtful attention, and the perimeter of the property has well-managed fences, walls or hedges, that speak of the pride of the householder. And its also not uncommon to find among such houses the odd building and garden that departs from these standards in an extreme way. The facade is unkempt, with peeling paintwork and grubby, cracked windows, whilst the garden is often worse, littered with rubbish, long discarded toys and vehicles that are either abandoned or undergoing repairs. Clearly there can be reasons for properties to be poorly maintained. It happens when the inhabitants become elderly, and the routine of repair and maintenance becomes too difficult or unaffordable. However, it's often for less understandable reasons that people allow their properties to become indistinguishable from a refuse tip.

A well-maintained and presented property can be an expression of the owners' pride, a desire for outward display, and the wish to live in surroundings that are pleasant. In other words, they are a consequence of self-interest. But, it's a self-interest that spawns a public good, because it elevates the surroundings of everyone who lives in the street and passes through it. Frequently there's an element of altruism and community spirit that drives people to beautify their property. Whatever the reasons it invariably makes the place a pleasanter environment for all. I came across an example of this a while ago when I was in the Lincolnshire village of Castle Bytham, a pretty and ancient settlement. As I passed the duck pond I noticed a lovely basket of flowers on the wall of a house. This property has a single wall and a window that abuts the pond. But, notwithstanding this fact, and despite the obvious difficulty of fixing and maintaining the basket in this location, and regardless of the already existing beauty of the tree-lined location with its island and waterfowl, the owner had raised the appeal of the place by going to the trouble of mounting the basket on the stone wall. It looks wonderful, especially when its attractiveness is doubled by its reflection in the water, and it increases the pleasure of everyone who passes by.

When I looked at the flowers last year I wondered how they were kept watered and fed. This year I discovered the secret. There is a narrow tube that comes over the wall and disappears into the compost (you can see it in the photograph). The water and fertilizer must pass through it as and when they are required. I took this shot when the ducks (out of view) were sending ripples across the water. The next time I pass, I hope they are all asleep on the island and I get a better reflection!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 55mm (110mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On