Schmoke: Sick and tired of trash

August 22, 1994

As the city gets trashier and trashier, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he is mad and isn't going to take it any more. Welcome to the crowd!

There are those who contend Baltimore has never been among the tidier American cities. Whatever the truth, things have gone downhill noticeably in recent years, and not only in slum neighborhoods.

The mayor has now told sanitation chiefs they have 60 days to shape up. After that, heads will roll. Citizens must see to it that the mayor lives up to his promise.

Trash is one of the most insidious forms of random vandalism in today's urban settings. Otherwise respectable people are often just as guilty as destitutes of doing things that contribute to general untidiness -- like putting out trash long before it is collected, or immediately afterward. Or putting bags of household trash in cans intended for throwaway litter so that they overflow and have no room for cigarette butts or bottles.

Mr. Schmoke is ordering sanitation supervisors to get tough with such violators by issuing warning notices and citations. Meanwhile, Kenneth Strong, acting head of the Bureau of Solid Waste, is replanning the entire garbage collection system. "This has been a complaint-driven operation for too long," he says.

Under the new system, bulk trash would be collected on set dates in each neighborhood. Currently, citizens must pre-arrange for collection of heavy items and the waiting time may be weeks.

Another target will be landlords who dump eviction chattel on sidewalks or streets. The consequences are predictable: Neighbors and passers-by take the choicest belongings and scatter the rest around. Then, once a gust of wind comes by the whole street is trashy. "We have a system now that authorizes landlords to do what for any ordinary citizens would be illegal dumping," Mr. Strong says.

Indeed, the city's untidiness is due mostly to individual irresponsibility rather than any major failure on the part of the 1,000 sanitation workers and their supervisors. That bureaucracy needs re-energizing, though. We hope the mayor's riot act will produce it.

Certain structural problems in major cities like Baltimore are difficult to resolve. Ending urban decay by litter-bugs should not be one of them, as long as authorities are willing and ready to throw the book at violators.

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