Swansea Underachieves

Swansea is a mystery.

It’s less than an hour from the capital (Cardiff), has a beautiful coast line, a good university, a population with all the talents you could ask for, and yet it languishes. Comedians can use the word ‘Swansea’  as shorthand for dirty, backward and undeveloped. Swansea waddles through the squalor and litter of unrealised potential. 

Cambridge lies an hour from the capital (London), has an excellent university and a talented population, but no coast line. But it has architecture, science parks, music and a world-wide reputation.  

How do we make Swansea more like Cambridge?

Swansea is much, much more than its PR failures. I can cycle along the sea front to the Mumbles, then walk on to Limeslade Bay. I can drive to Oxwich and walk to Port Eynon along one of the UK’s most beautiful stretches of coast line. Those are the bits that most visitors to the area do not see.

Or I can walk the streets around the town centre and observe huge quantities of litter and discarded furniture, and these are the parts that visitors to the town will see. No one I know throws litter down. I don’t throw litter down. No one I know does anything about clearing it up. I don’t do anything about clearing it up.

This is a collective failure – no one owns it – and that, as the fairy story explains, makes it difficult to solve.

Once upon a time, there were four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Councils will do what they are legally mandated to do and what they they have the revenue to pay for. Bin lorries will travel their designated daily routes and recycling centres will accept some (but, frustratingly, not all) waste, and there it ends. Areas blighted by tipping will not be cleared.

A layer of communication and organisation is missing: the inhabitants don’t like the mess but feel inadequate to tackle it; the authority performs its statutory duty within its budget limitations, and the mess persists. I suspect that there is a lot of goodwill that could be tapped in to if only we had a thing that could do the tapping. Suggestions, please.

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