Was trash attack just propaganda?

Cleaner city: Neighborhood sanitation won't improve without citizen activism and help.

March 31, 2000

WHERE DO WE go now that the free hot dogs and sodas have been gobbled up and volunteers of Mayor Martin O'Malley's spring clean-up have gone home?

The mayor's trash attack was a success, symbolically: It showed a cleaner city is an achievable goal. Over two days, an army of 3,000 volunteers and 1,000 city workers removed 2,700 tons of trash, including 1,000 tires, from streets, alleys and vacant spaces.

Even though that's twice as much as is collected on two days on regular garbage routes, the clean-up hardly made a dent.

Example: A vacant lot at Vine and Stricker streets in the Franklin Square area is already returning to its earlier trashy condition.

Example: The clean-up never touched the 600 block of N. Calhoun St. in Harlem Park. Garbage is overflowing from unboarded vacant houses to the pavement, worsening rodent problem. Wells for trees that died long ago are full of beer cans and liquor bottles.

In October 1998, when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced a crackdown against sanitation and housing-code violators, this page supported his initiative but warned that only results count. We printed a photo of 623 N. Calhoun St. with the caption, "Let's see how long it takes to clean up problem houses like the one above."

Yes, let's see.

There's a new mayor, but the trash photographed a year and a half ago remains. That's because the abandoned houses were never cleaned -- and because more garbage has been dumped inside.

Reorganization of trash collection routes is among the O'Malley administration's goals. The mayor also wants to step up code enforcement by increasing the number of sanitation officers. Those are good and long-overdue measures that are easy to implement.

Clearly, property owners must bear responsibility for the conditions they permit. But tenants, passers-by and loiterers also must be persuaded to see the light.

Changing human behavior is difficult. Yet it must be done. This is a challenge the mayor must urgently undertake with the help of the Neighborhood Congress and community associations.

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