Towns and cities are trying some new tactics as they pitch in to help the United States come closer to being America the Beautiful. From coast to coast, 347 communities in 40 states now participate in the Keep America Beautiful campaign. And the number has been growing by 40 to 50 communities a year.
For instance, a number of downtown Atlanta businesses have started sending employees out on foot patrols to spot and report trash ordinance violations, cracked sidewalks, vandalized litter containers, and other problems.
In Memphis, volunteers are beginning to work with companies, such as Federal Express, who are willing to participate in a cleanliness and safety campaign on company premises.
In Houston and suburban Atlanta, efforts are under way to convince contractors to keep their work sites clean during construction.
This not only provides neighbors a more pleasant scene, it also has actually speeded up construction projects because subcontractors can move around the sites more easily, says Barbara Mason, coordinator of Georgia Clean and Beautiful, part of the Keep America Beautiful campaign.
A key strategy behind such programs is ''to convince people what's in it for them,'' she says. When the cleanup program in Macon, Ga., began giving awards to the cleanest shopping centers, business owners in the winning centers reported an increase in sales, she says.
With volunteers supplying most of the manpower, more and more communities are cleaning up vacant lots and roadsides; recycling papers, glass, and aluminum cans; and organizing cleanups by business owners and city halls.
''We are having success at changing attitudes,'' says Don Pendley, spokesman for Keep America Beautiful (KAB) based in New York. ''Something's going on - and it's more than just a pick-up project.''
Georgia is in the forefront of such efforts, having won the best state award last year in the KAB competition. Two Georgia counties and the city of Atlanta also won first or second prizes in their size categories. Georgia also has more communities (50) participating than any other state.
Nationally, the aim has been to avoid a confrontational approach, says Maryann Jacob, a paid member of the KAB headquarters staff.
''It's not pointing the finger - it's saying, 'Hey, we should get together and clean up,' '' she says.
But sometimes the talk is backed up with hints of penalties.
Atlanta coordinator Pat Canakaris recently convinced one store owner to pave his badly potholed parking lot and clean up piles of trash. She also let the owner know she was in touch with city officials about his property with regard to enforcement of trash ordinances. She often returns to a commercial cleanup site, a quiet signal to owners that someone is still watching.
In Macon, Ga., about 600 volunteers help with cleanup and beautification projects and work on various committees with local officials and business leaders. Their main focus is educating the public about the issue, says executive director Carolyn Crayton.
In Gwinett County, a KAB award-winner near Atlanta, the county government provides dump trucks over a weekend to help neighborhood groups who want to clean up. In addition, unpaid probationers (often convicted drunken drivers) clean up roadsides under court programs, and fire stations keep bins for recyling newspapers.
According to the KAB staff, communities that participate show, on the average , a 45 percent reduction in the amount of trash and litter after one year and about 70 percent after four years. These figures are produced by comparing photographs of typical trash sites in these communities, says Mr. Pendley of the KAB.
Why do people volunteer for cleanup and beautification projects?
''I care,'' says Joy San Brown, the volunteer chairman of Atlanta Clean City Commission. ''I'm interested in our city and our country. Too many of us are all too often ready to let (someone else) do it.''
With the world population on its way to doubling, she says, ''we have got to try to keep every bit of space clean and beautiful.''