When the Tour de France reaches the Champs-Élysées at the end of the month, the smell of victory won’t be the only odor in the streets. Public urination in Paris, particularly noxious in the July heat, remains a problem despite the considerable efforts of Paris officials. Of course, Paris is only one of many cities struggling to establish norms of public hygiene. New Delhi, a city where public spitting and urination present similar problems, is having better luck preventing such behavior on its new subway system. A recent New York Times story on New Delhi’s metro offers a nice illustration of how to establish new rules, particularly informal ones, enforced by norms.
Part of what people like about New Delhi’s metro is that the cars are clean and people are relatively courteous. Some riders are so pleased, in fact, that they volunteer their time to ensure it stays that way. They enforce rules against public spitting and urination. Though such rules are routinely ignored in the rest of the city, the volunteers appear to be winning the battle so far to sustain new norms among metro riders.They don't pick up their dog poopy, either, which rather makes the entire city un grand W.C.
Even when cities enforce formal rules against certain kinds of behavior, creating a culture of compliance with the rules can be challenging. The Delhi metro monitors are simply trying to preserve a desirable equilibrium. Their task is a bit easier than that of a unique group of like-minded enforcers in Paris, the Bad Behavior Brigade. The Brigade successfully suppresses a host of offenses, such as littering, failure to pick up after dogs, and unauthorized flyer distribution. Yet the offense of public urination remains a persistent problem despite the Brigade’s ticketing efforts and an increase in the number of public toilets in Paris.
Obviously, some norms are hard to change. When I first traveled to France 30 years ago, I was astonished at the stenciled warning on walls: “Défense de Pisser.” Why would anyone old enough to read need to be reminded to use a toilet? Now the signs say “Défense D’Uriner.” At least the signs have become more polite, even if the behavior has not...