The Price of Neglect

June 2, 2022



Doing nothing would seemingly be cheap. It should certainly be easy. It should be a total breeze, like a Corona commercial, hanging seaside with Snoop getting high all day, sipping on watered down lagers replete rusty lime wedges. 

Yes, in the short term, stagnation is cheap and easy. Nothing is easier in fact, than doing nothing; today, tomorrow, or forever. Unfortunately though, clocks are relentless and time marches on and tomorrow will soon arrive and the idle account comes due. 

The maintenance never goes away. We can stall, postpone, delay, or put it off- but time doesn’t care what we call our procrastination – disorder is relentlessly making moves on order. Nature does not take time off from inducing atrophy. 

It’s always a ‘today for tomorrow’ tradeoff. What sounds good in the short-term is at odds with what’s best in the long run. Postponing exercise today means more weight and less energy tomorrow. Putting off maintenance today, means there will be more to repair tomorrow. Splurging on bling today, means less for retirement tomorrow. What we might want today, puts us in the hole tomorrow. 

Neglect ain’t easy and it ain’t cheap. It’s simply delaying what needs to be done this day and creating more work for the next. The longer we delay, the worse the problem gets. The work builds up, the costs creep up. Then there is the stress. In delaying what needs to be done, we create anxiety around the fact that what needs to be done, isn’t getting done. The longer we delay, the worse it gets. Unlike your Roomba, maintenance can’t be automated. We can’t just tap the ON button and continue to scroll through Instagram. We know the problem remains and it grows in our mind while we put it off. It weighs on us. 

When we neglect a ‘thing’, be it our bodies, our relationships, or our homes, we are forced to accept that said thing is getting worse. The real pisser is that stagnation doesn’t mean things stay the same. Maintenance is in fact, status quo. Neglect is pushing the boundaries of what we can consider a verb, because there is no action being taken. Neglect is doing nothing, but it doesn’t mean nothing happens. The forces of nature still take their toll. 

If we stop taking care of our home, it doesn’t just stay the same, gravity, bugs, wind, rain, badgers, all begin to enact their will. They are relentlessly working to undue the order that the builders created. Nature in constantly seeking to dismantle your tidy Tudor. 

The cost of neglect is considerable and while it applies to every facet of our life, I tend to think of it in context of our built environment. The health care industry treats people one at a time, but the built environment affects everyone. simultaneously, all the time. The condition of our surroundings is one of the largest factors of public health, but it remains largely ignored. 

Consider our cities- they have been neglected for decades. The places we call home exist outside of our living rooms. The space between houses is also our home. Downtown is our home as well. When these areas become neglected, we are forced to watch our collective home fall into disrepair. We are forced to deal with the stress of decline and the adverse of affects of neglect. 

The condition of a community affects everyone that calls it home. The renter, the worker, the student. The hospital, the university, the manufacturer, the tech start-up- they are all impacted by the place they are located. Neglect effects everyone and every institution. Neglect brings about a level of stress for all. Each and every citizen is forced to confront the decline that surrounds them. They are all suffering from the anxiety of watching something beautiful or ordered descend into ugliness and chaos. Each resident experiences a decline in self-esteem as their place makes them feel ashamed. 

This is the power of place- and it touches everyone. My wife and I walked into an elegant hotel bar in Toronto last month and we both felt more sophisticated just for moving from one space to another. We didn’t change clothes, we didn’t quickly attend an Ivy League school or pickup a British accent. Our surroundings changed and so did we. The chance that we would be loud, or rude or litter in this space was virtually non-existent. Our environment immediately began shaping our behavior. 

Because our surroundings affect how we feel, how we behave and who we are, we begin to realize neglect is the furthest thing from cheap. Penny wise and pound foolish, as the saying goes. Saving money on maintenance today just means spending twice as much tomorrow and suffering the adverse affects of delay in the meantime. Neglect doesn’t mean less work, it means more work later. 

We can’t afford to let things go, because neglect is expensive. It is stressful and in the end, it’s hard work. It costs a fortune to let one downtown building descend into blight. Maybe not for the deadbeat owner, but for all the surrounding owners, for the municipality, for the county, for business owners, for home owners, for the chamber, for tourism, for the economic development office, for locals’ sense of civic pride and civic self-esteem. If municipal governments ever considered the long term costs of neglect, they would realize code enforcement would be their most profitable department. 

Neglect is simply delaying cost and effort and multiplying its effects. It doesn’t go away, it just waits- compounding interest, not in the shadows, but in broad daylight where everyone is forced to confront it. When neglect occurs downtown, every resident has to watch the collective cracks grow larger, where everyone shudders at the broken windows and feels the shame of falling bricks, sagging rooflines and heaving sidewalks. The physical costs of vacancy and blight are quantifiable and substantial, the emotional cost are exponentially higher. 

Neglect ain’t easy and it sure ain’t cheap. 


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