Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is Baltimore one of the trashiest cities in America?


1657 New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) passes a law against casting waste in the streets. 
1944The Dow Chemical Company invents an insulation material called Styrofoam.


There are many who see Baltimore as especially trashy city measured by the amounts of litter floating through streets, the bags hanging the trees and the rubbish lining the alleys.

It is is easy to see how that impression comes about, because one doesn't have to go far to confirm it. My own grandchildren (age 4 and 7) growing up in Ellicott City were outraged the other day when they walked the sidewalks of Hampden, and the street didn't even look bad to me.
Where Baltimore's street trash winds up: Inner Harbor
The Baltimore Election Facebook page idled sleepily in the holiday daze until the question of trash came up and set the site on fire. Comment after comment about how dirty Baltimore is and pondering whether the issue has gotten worse and should be a campaign issue.

The next question, then, is whether the city Department of Public Works is especially inept in trash removal or if Baltimore residents are especially messy and prone to just tossing things wherever they go or whether we deal with a combination of both. (The Daily Mail in 2011 put Baltimore on place 6 of the ten dirtiest US cities, a newer Readers Digest survey still puts Baltimore's sanitation near the bottom).
New standardized trash cans for Baltimore: Hydraulic lift on truck (SUN)

On the DPW incompetence, I am not so sure. Mayor after Mayor had set their eyes on the matter of sanitation and better ways to collect trash, increase recycling and have safer containers. Trash removal seems pretty reliable. The other day I was truly stunned when on the street sweeping day the sweeper actually showed up right at 8am. SRB's latest initiative is tp provide standardized cans to households so to avoid the messy bags and keep the rats out. (see photo).

On the messiness of locals: No doubt about it. People opening their car windows and tossing their happy-meal leftovers into the street without hesitation, pedestrians unwrapping and dropping the wrappers all in one motion an all too common occurrence. People putting trash out in bags instead of cans or doing it on the wrong days is common, too. So is stuffing street-cans with household bags of garbage right after they have been emptied. Not to mention bus stops where MTA doesn't allow people to board the bus with food and people just drop everything before stepping on the bus. MTA doesn't want to deal with cans and DPW doesn't want to deal with MTA riders' trash.
Community clean-up Waverly

Clear is, the trashier the streets look, the laxer the behavior of those who think that they deserve that somebody picks up behind them. So what are the solutions? The bag ban didn't go anywhere, and the once-a-week pick-up (instead of two) saved money but probably didn't help cleanliness either. There isn't much new to say since I wrote a longer essay about trash in 2014.
Effectiveness of dealing with the origins of trash, then, is not only related to the success a city has in creating prosperity and a civic sense of pride by incorporating and including as many of its citizens as possible, (a feat in which the suburbs have an unfair advantage since most residents are there by choice while disadvantaged residents in cities often live there for lack of other choices).
In other words: One could say that Baltimore's trash is just a symptom of its other dysfunction and pathology. That the trash problem cannot be solved in isolation, just as the crime problem can't.

However, one can also see that increased sanitation services such as the sweepers of the Downtown Partnership really work, if one puts the extra effort and money into it. That is the irony of dysfunction, it sometimes not only produces a scarcity of resources it also creates an extra need for them.
Baltimore sanitation workers are City employees.
The City has its own trash collection. The County
outsources it to private companies.
The deeper truth, though: We simply produce too much trash just as we consume too much energy, a truly unholy alliance, in each case about 25% of what the entire world produces/consumes with just 5% of the world's population. A sad world record that inherently makes for trashy cities.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Top Ten Dirtiest US Cities 2011
The 50 cleanest cities (Readers Digest 2015)
Baltimore City Solid Waste Management Website

Video of a TED talk about New York trash and sanitation services











2014 Rat eradication "heat map" which is a good proxy for the trash problem as well (Baltimore SUN Nov 2014)