A considerate little idea that could really grow

LONDON – On a busy corner not far from Harrods in London's fashionable Knightsbridge shopping district, a construction site for a new Burberry store sports an intriguing sign.

"Considerate Builders Scheme," the large green letters read.

The poster explains that the builders take pride in the high standards of work on and around the site. Then it offers a remarkable promise, stating, "We pledge to be considerate, quiet, clean, tidy, safe, responsible, accountable."

What a list, and what an ambitious goal! It's enough to send a visiting American to the phone to learn more from Muriel Butt, manager of the considerate builders scheme of the Westminster City Council.

The scheme – or plan, as Americans would call it – began in the late 1980s. A building boom was under way in London. Construction companies were feeling powerful, often disregarding the concerns of those who lived and worked near building sites.

"Things got seriously out of hand," Ms. Butt recalls. But taking companies to court proved largely ineffective, because fines for infractions were so low.

Instead, she says, "We decided to persuade builders to be good neighbors, to come in and behave themselves."

Results have been gratifying. Construction companies, especially the big ones, now stay in regular contact with the residents and businesses surrounding a project, letting them know what will be happening.

"When people aren't consulted or don't feel their wishes matter, they can get very cross," Butt says. "But they feel good about being informed and consulted." Even when machinery inevitably gets noisy, if contractors level with people and don't lie, residents will accept that.

Informed people are also likely to be more cooperative.

"Some of the residents get so interested in a project that it turns them around," she says. "They find it interesting, and they stop complaining to us."

"Considerate" is an honorable adjective that has fallen on hard times in recent years, elbowed out by rudeness and swagger and self-importance. The prevailing attitude in some circles seems to be: In a hectic 24/7 world, who has time for thoughtfulness?

Imagine, then, the possibilities for change if the Considerate Builders Scheme could make a transatlantic crossing and serve as a model for various American plans.

How about a Considerate Drivers Plan? The pledge would be simple: no cutting off other drivers, no tailgating, no weaving in and out of lanes, and no rude gestures or impatient honking horns.

Another possibility, a Considerate Cellphone Users Plan, would state the obvious: no shouting, and no subjecting captive bystanders to all the mundane details of a caller's life and job.

In the corporate world, a Considerate CEOs Plan could help to restore workers' confidence. This pledge would put an end to the exalted attitudes that make top brass feel entitled to receive hundreds of millions of dollars while their underlings lose jobs and pensions.

And what about these? A Considerate Salesclerks Plan – no chatting on the phone with a friend while customers wait. A Considerate Shoppers Plan – no impatient, unreasonable demands, and no attempts to return merchandise that has been worn or used. And a Considerate Concertgoers Plan – no beeping pagers or phones, no noisy cellophane-wrapped candy, and no hasty exits in the final minutes of the program to beat the rush.

Other listmakers will add their own ideas. Little by little, one small, considerate gesture at a time, a now-tiny "consideration revolution" could grow.

Those considerate builders in London just might be onto something big.

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