Street cleaning season has started, but no street sweeper has brushed away resident concerns over litter and trash in the South End.
With piles of cigarette butts, coffee cups, food wrappers, scratched lettery tickets and plastic bags scattered on neighborhood streets and sidewalks, some residents place garbage atop what they called the neighborhood’s "hall of shame."
"Trash is everywhere. And we don’t want to live like this," said Al Perry, a resident of the Worcester Square area who said he has been "extremely distressed" by the amount of trash in the South End. "It’s a lack of regard, a lack of respect for people’s property and for the neighborhood. People just litter. People just don’t see it’s their responsibility to keep the front of their buildings clean. People just don’t care."
Jay Fogarty, who lives in the Ellis neighborhood of the South End, agreed. What greatly bothers him, he said, is an array of dog waste bags that people simply drop along the sidewalks.
"It’s not like a trash collector is going to lean over picking up a tiny little bag of poops," said Fogarty, also chairman of the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association. "No, he doesn’t do it. And the bag just sits there!"
"The city is filthy," added Fogarty. "The streets look remarkably better once the street cleaning season starts. But the streets continuously get refilled with rubbish. It just happens over and over again."
According to the Department of Public Works (DPW), the city collected over 220,000 tons of residential trash last year, with 5,300 tons from the South End. But with the number of retail stores, bars and restaurants mushrooming in the past two decades, DPW has had trouble keeping up. Foot traffic has increased and the South End has become, as some residents see, one of the city’s litter hot spots. Litterbugs swarm the town and leave their mark in various ways. Trash bags are ripped open by bottle pickers, leaving trash scattered everywhere. Some residents also improperly and illegally place their bags in public trash receptacles.
According to the Code Enforcement Division (CED), residents in the South End should place their trash on the sidewalk after 5:00 p.m. the night before pickup dates on Tuesdays and Fridays. For illegal dumping, violators face fines of up to $1,000 per day. Litterbugs can also face a $25 fine.
But the threat of these fines fails to scare some "litter enthusiasts" off. Over the course of the year, the CED receives about 10,000 phone calls related to illegal dumping on city streets, according to Chief Code Enforcement Officer Michael Mackan.
"Strangely enough numbers of calls are the same each month," said Mackan.
He added that the division receives extra calls on Mother’s Day-one of the busiest days of the year for his office.
"Families come back to their neighborhoods, see loose litter, and call us to get the area cleaned up around their moms’ places," he said. "You can see every kind of trash. The strangest thing I saw was a dead bird full of maggots on a plate!"
The city has focused its efforts on sprucing up the worst spots. According to Dennis Royer, chief of the DPW, Boston Public Works’s street cleaning budget for the fiscal year of 2009 increased from last year’s $4.1 million to $4.4 million. The department has also expanded its street sweeping areas more than 100 blocks throughout the city, implemented single-stream recycling citywide, and placed more litter barrels on the sidewalks.
And by the end of spring, South End residents may see a cleaner streetscape. The city and representatives from South End neighborhood associations have discussed and considered how to cultivate the public virtue of civic pride in the neighborhood. The plan to raise environmental awareness and increase civic pride will soon be put into action, said Royer.
"It’s very hard on trying to make people have a sense of civic pride, not to trash the streets, not to throw things out on the highways. People just do it," said Royer. "But we’ll have something in the South End to get everybody involved and put the plan in place."
What this "something" is remains a question. Yet some residents are hopeful. With 72 trash receptacles positioned throughout the neighborhood, residents expect the city to place more trash receptacles, especially BigBellys-a $3,200 solar compacting trash receptacle-on the sidewalks. Currently, there are 164 BigBellys citywide, 15 of which reside in the South End. They also expect more communication and active participation of the community, which, they believe, is the key to combating trash in the neighborhood.
"If we could get that level of civic engagement, we’d have much less of an issue with trash," said Fogarty. "The best awareness tactic is for neighbors to chat with the people who are chronic trash creators. Perhaps these people are new and need some tips on garbage disposal."
Perry said he might give that "chit-chat" tactic a second thought, however. The memory of "an empty pack of cigarettes" from last spring still pierces his heart.
Perry recalled that, on the Boston Shines cleanup day last year, he took a short break after sweeping sidewalks for three hours. Looking at the pristine, spotless South End sidewalks, he sipped his coffee, satisfied with how clean and tidy the area was.
Then, Perry saw a man walk past a trash barrel, take out his last cigarette, and throw the empty pack over his shoulder. It was the one-and only-piece of trash on the sidewalk, Perry recalled.
"Thank you very much for trashing our neighborhood!" Perry said to the man, expecting to evoke a sense of shame in him.
"Oh, you’re very welcome. Anytime," the man replied as he walked away.
Instead of feeling numb and speechless, Perry laughed.
"How do you deal with that kind of mentality?" said Perry. "It’s just so amazing how some people have no regards whatsoever for their neighbors."