With `Trash Fish' as their bait, neighbors set to reel in litterbugs

City Diary

October 03, 2001|By GEOFF MUMFORD

LAST SUMMER, we installed a sculpture made of trash at the corner of Light and Heath streets. Trash Fish was designed to be a conversation piece and, like the real "Fish Out of Water" works, was named with a desperate pun: "Trash fish" have no commercial value and are often discarded.

Although a common term in the seafood industry, this play on words was apparently lost on some of our neighbors, so Trash Fish met with mixed reviews.

Vandalized but since repaired, it will soon be installed as a permanent display inside the Thomas Johnson Elementary School.

Especially now, as we are all searching for new ways to express our pride in America, it's important that the community understand why it's here.

Trash Fish was built by a group of volunteer residents who are fed up with the proliferation of litter in South Baltimore and believe we deserve better.

In response, we've started a new nonprofit group, Keep South Baltimore Beautiful, Hon Inc., to help focus sanitation and beautification efforts on the peninsula.

Although South Baltimore is organized across several well-established neighborhood associations, our sanitation problems don't respect those arbitrary boundaries.

We are all faced with common challenges, including epidemic litter, illegal dumping, drug abuse, vandalism and youth who are disengaged from their community.

Quality-of-life issues here, as in many cities, follow the "broken windows" theory, which suggests that a single sign of decay can become the pivotal event in a cascade of deterioration.

Litter can serve as a broken window - a sign of distress - reflecting a lack of ownership by residents in that community.

Other negative influences - including graffiti, illegal dumping, gangs and drug peddlers - soon follow. Fortunately, this downward spiral is reversible.

Keep America Beautiful Inc. has nearly 50 years of experience in 41 states helping to organize broad-based partnerships that involve every sector of the community, including city government, businesses, religious institutions, schools, neighborhood associations and other civic groups.

Our South Baltimore affiliate will use Keep America Beautiful's best practices in litter prevention, beautification and community improvement.

We will educate South Baltimore residents about sources of litter, littering behavior, litter prevention and litter abatement. The group's mission - to instill individual responsibility for the community environment - will serve as a rallying point, bringing together residents from different neighborhoods, racial and socioeconomic strata in pursuit of a common goal.

We will develop education and communication partnerships across neighborhood association boundaries, beginning with the South Baltimore Litter Obliterators, a youth-based environmental awareness program. An age-appropriate litter education curriculum called "Waste in Place" will be introduced in local schools and recreation centers, and teachers will be encouraged to work with families to implement youth-based sanitation programs.

We will conduct an annual cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate the value of our sanitation and beautification efforts. Nationally, Keep America Beautiful Inc. volunteers provide a $10 return for every $1 invested, combating deterioration and improving the physical condition of their communities.

Today's writer

Geoff Mumford is coordinating Keep South Baltimore Beautiful Hon Inc. and is chairman of the Sanitation and Beautification Subcommittee of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee Inc. He directs the Science Policy Office of the American Psychological Association in Washington.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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