There is no nice way to say this. Parts of Worcester are filthy.
Yes, yes, I know, Worcester is in the middle of a great “renaissance.” There certainly is a great deal of good news to report about Worcester. But all of that positive press and all of the new buildings do not change the fact that, like many other cities in Massachusetts, Worcester is filthy.
Just look around our city. The pictures I took for this column come from Vernon Street – a main artery into downtown. But they could just as easily have come from so many other streets and neighborhoods in Worcester – especially our multi-family neighborhoods.
The ramps off and onto I-290 and I-190 are a mess. Some of our parks are filthy. The last time I was at Elm Park the water was disgusting with a mixture of trash and filth at the edges. And that is the same condition that I noticed at that park last year and the year before.
Back in the 1970’s there was a “Keep America Beautiful” ad that included a Native American who, when looking at trash in a community, shed a single tear. If you ran that ad today in Worcester, the Native American character would probably be bawling.
The city’s Quality of Life Task Force does an admirable job trying to tackle the mountains of bulk trash dumped illegally. Equipped with surveillance cameras and a hard working staff, the city is now considering publishing the names of the slobs who use our neighborhoods as their personal waste basket – a great idea.
As significant as the illegal dumping problem is, the overwhelming problem is the thousands of cans, wrappers, cigarette butts and other personal trash that gets dropped one or two pieces at a time throughout our community. We cannot hire enough city workers to handle this mountain of filth.
As I prepared to write this column, I thought about my travels over the past year to Virginia, South Carolina, Florida and Wyoming. None of these places, even those that were very densely populated had the amount of trash and filth that we find in some of our neighborhoods. In fact, most of them had virtually no litter at all.
Cleaning up Worcester is a tall order. It will require a significant investment of time and money. But if we truly want to stand out and have outsiders take notice, we need to clean our city.
Here are a few suggestions.
Organize and promote more neighborhood clean-ups.
There is no way that the city workers can clean things by themselves. The Mayor should work with district councilors to generate a number of neighborhood and business led clean-ups in each council district. In addition to Earth Day, we have a few clean-ups now but nowhere near what is needed. These clean-ups should involve local businesses, churches, colleges and any other group or institution in the general area.
This volunteer manpower can accomplish a great deal and involving local citizens in their neighborhoods has numerous other advantages. Imagine the benefit of having three, four or five community clean-ups in each district. Along with hundreds of tons of trash that would be removed, this would also engage thousands of local citizens in activities that would foster real civic pride.
These clean-ups should also include the Sheriff’s Community Service program, the state highway folks and anyone else we can find.
2. Have the city make the third sweeping of city streets a permanent occurrence.
The city has two official street sweepings; one in the spring and another in the fall. However, for the past couple of years the city has added a third street sweeping. Unfortunately, this is only a partial sweeping in that cars are not required to move so that sweepers can get right to the curb line where a great deal of the trash ends up. That means, in many areas, the workers are only sweeping the middle of the street. The city should make the third sweeping a permanent fixture and require vehicles to be moved to facilitate a thorough cleaning.
3. Fix the current recycling mess.
We have a great recycling program. Unfortunately, because of a lack of political will, it also adds to our neighborhood litter problem. We need to stop recycling materials from blowing around like winter snow flakes by providing containers with lids. And penalize those who put their recycling and trash out days early so that the birds and small animals do not distribute the mess throughout the neighborhood.
4. Eliminate the use of plastic bags in local stores.
A council order filed by Konnie Lukes has been languishing in committee for an eternity. The city council should eliminate the use of plastic bags in city stores. Contrary to what some may think, those bags are not supposed to be decorations for local street trees.
5. Develop a local public relations campaign.
It does little good if we clean up a street only to have an identical amount of trash dumped the minute the volunteers and city workers leave. The city needs to work with the local schools, area media, area businesses and neighborhood groups and aggressively promote a “Clean Worcester” campaign.
I remember when I was mayor giving a speech to a couple of hundred students at a local parochial junior-senior high school. As a part of my speech, I talked about civic involvement and how students should find ways to become involved with making Worcester a better place to live. I suggested a neighborhood clean-up.
One student raised his hand and when I called on him, he said sarcastically, “why should we clean things up, we pay people to do that?” In a stern fatherly tone, I told the young man that we paid people to sweep up the leaves in the fall and the sand in the spring. After a short pause, I looked at him and said, “We don’t pay anyone to pick up after you. If you want to live in a city that is filthy that is up to you.”
The attitude of that young man seems to be reflected in the behavior of so many of our fellow citizens. Since we pay people to sweep our streets and clean our parks, let’s just throw the wrapper or can on the ground and wait for them to pick it up.
Perhaps we have earned the filth that we live with. Look, we put the trash there in the first place, so maybe, we are getting what we deserve. But with a little political focus and leadership, we can make things better.
I think all of the development going on in our city is great – the culmination of two decades of building blocks that has ultimately reshaped our downtown. And I am truly excited and proud every time I read a news report about how things are changing in my hometown.
But, most respectfully, Mr. City Manager and Mr. Mayor, if you really want a renaissance in Worcester, then clean the place up!