A woman with dark curly hair is sweeping the sidewalk in front of her downtown businesses.

Clean your own sidewalk day

The first time I visited Pullman, Washington, in 2017, I bet half a dozen people told me they had a dirty sidewalk problem. Every time it rains, dirt and leaves and trash wash out of the streets and onto the sidewalks.

As we walked around their downtown, they told me that they’ve done clean up projects in the past, but the sidewalks still get dirty. They talked about doing another cleanup day, but no one spoke up to take it on. One guy tried to pin it on the chamber director, and said, “The chamber did the last clean up day, and they should do another one.”

I stopped him right there. I said if no one wants to take the lead, then it won’t happen because it isn’t your own priority. And the whole group was pretty uncomfortable with that.

Then a business owner named Willow said, “I’ll clean my own sidewalk.” Which is a good start, but if it’s just Willow, it’s not enough. How do you get from one person cleaning their own section of sidewalk to enough people cleaning their own sidewalks on an ongoing basis that we don’t need to keep scheduling cleanup days?

You have to start by cleaning your own sidewalk. Then you can take pictures. Put it on social media. Hashtag it #CleanYourOwnSidewalkDay and tag two friends. Make a big deal out of how anyone can do their own sidewalk. Make it less like a committee, and more like a social media challenge.

This worked for Pullman. Other merchants followed Willow’s lead. A bunch of merchants started sweeping their sidewalks on Wednesdays. Then the city joined in, and they sent around the street sweeper on the following mornings.

It’s the Idea Friendly Method in action. This is your best way to attract those people who are initially resistant. If Willow had tried to convince everyone during the walkaround or at that meeting to change their minds, forget doing a cleanup day and all sweep their own sidewalks instead, and also to convince the city to change their work schedule, everyone would have resisted. What would they have said? “That will never work!” “That’s a terrible idea!” Willow didn’t try to change their minds. Instead, Willow attracted them by taking her own action. She made it easy to join in. Willow started a movement that people could get behind.

I was just in Pullman and got an update. This momentum lasted for several years. Willow is still sweeping her sidewalk, and so are a fair few others, including one business that has a customer sweep their sidewalks for them!

The City of Pullman was just about to start construction on their new downtown sidewalks when I was there in March 2024. There’s been a lot of controversy about how long sidewalks will be torn up and businesses blocked, and the project has been delayed quite a bit.

Once again, Willow sees the potential for community. She thinks the new sidewalks are going to boost pride in the downtown, and they’ll see more business people sweeping their sidewalks again.

She even let me take a picture of her sweeping her sidewalk. “Let me get my cute broom,” she said.