Any experienced city official knows the so-called "little things" — removing graffiti, picking up trash, fixing ramshackle buildings, reducing excessive noise — can improve even the most distressed urban neighborhoods. Hartford Police Chief James Rovella knew it when he launched a "quality of life" campaign a year ago.

This week, Mr. Rovella, Mayor Pedro Segarra and other city leaders urged the public to get serious about such issues.

They are absolutely right. We've spoken to many people over the years who moved out of the city, and the reasons they gave for departing often involve quality of life issues such as litter and — notably — ear pollution, in the form of inappropriate loud noise. People want, and deserve, peace and quiet.

The key to improving the quality of life is creating a citywide culture in which everyone understands what the rules and expectations are — pick up after pets, put trash in trash cans, cut the grass, no revving motorcycles at midnight, etc. Some problems, such as late-night drag racing, can be addressed by increased policing. But others must be addressed at the local level, by neighbors enforcing community standards.

As neighborhood leaders well know, this can be a challenge. It isn't easy to confront someone who is breaking the social contract; if the complaint involves an absentee property owner, it's often difficult even to find the person.

This is why the plan to hold several public meetings in different parts of Hartford is a good idea; getting neighbors committed to a plan of improvement and creating processes to enforce community norms will go a long way toward ensuring its success. The meetings will be held Aug. 10, Aug. 24 and Sept. 7, at places and times to be announced (see Hartford.gov). Let's hope for a good turnout.

"If you fix the little things in life, it really prevents the bigger things," Mr. Rovella has said.