City must clear way for cleaner streets Trash problem: College students' frustrated cleanup effort uncovers a system that is not working.

October 15, 1998

IN THEORY, everything is fine. Baltimore garbage is picked up on schedule; streets get swept. Yet why is the city so trashy?

Spurred by a Sun article about the dangerous accumulation of garbage near an East Baltimore elementary school, four college students took matters into their own hands. They rented a truck and started picking up debris. They filled 60 bags with trash -- everything from wine bottles and syringes to dead rats.

A city public works official tried to stop them. "Do you young people know you're trespassing?" he asked. More trouble followed at the city dump.

The students spotted a problem and acted. They saw a dysfunctional bureaucracy, so they bypassed the system. They deserve credit for their commitment and willingness to take a hands-on approach in a messy matter.

The response of bureaucrats at the Department of Public Works was predictable. The department points to its 700 neighborhood cleanups last year, the other services it provides and to its 60-percent increase in productivity.

But that's not enough. It's the city's duty to keep streets litter-free. In highly visible problem spots, trash has piled up in the doorways of abandoned houses. It is an intolerable situation.

When debris becomes a problem, citizens do not care if it is on private or public property. All they care about is getting rid of it.

This is what the college students were trying to do. They may have been too exuberant, but they just wanted results.

It is a black eye for Public Works Director George Balog and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. This should have been handled long ago by the city, not citizens. City residents pay taxes to keep their streets clean and areas near schools safe.

Baltimoreans are sick and tired of being victimized by other people's irresponsibility -- whether it is untidy neighbors or absentee landlords. It is time to overhaul a system that is not working.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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