To the editor:
Thank you for your October article, “Re-sensitize yourself to the litter problem.” Aside from the joy of being with friends or meeting people in new places, one of the gifts of today’s amazing ability to travel comes when we truly notice the differences between the place we live and the place we are visiting. You thoughtfully noticed how clean Burlington, Vermont, is.
The Church Street Marketplace is one of the few highly successful pedestrianized Main Streets in the US. It is intensely managed by the city and the Marketplace District Commission. Management in this case includes marketing, public art, cleaning, security, maintenance and outdoor vendor licensing. The property owners pay a per-square-foot fee to fund these services.
The frustration you described seeing Mobile’s litter was one motivating factor for the property owners who asked the city to create the Downtown Mobile Business Improvement District (BID) in 2005. Aside from the crews that patrolled the parade routes during the annual Carnival season, litter was generally left to blow around — eventually ending up in the storm drain system and out to Mobile Bay. For investors to be comfortable investing in a place, the place must first be considered safe and clean. This is the same whether the investor is a potential homeowner, land developer, shop owner, restaurateur or business owner.
In our organization, we equate it to the hierarchy of need but for development. Every day in Downtown Mobile’s BID, the Crew of Stewards patrols the district doing sidewalk litter and debris patrol amongst other services. In the last 21 months, they have done over 10,000 hours of pan-and-broom litter collection, during which they filled over 6,100 bags with litter. Of that number, 1,200 bags are attributable to the four (4) months during which there were Carnival season parades over the two (2) years.
The litter we collect is diverted from otherwise draining into the storm drain system. This is litter that does not mar the experience for residents and visitors. (I know we are not talking about leaves, but in that same time we have vacuumed an additional 6,300 bags of leaves from the sidewalks.) In late summer, we began dividing the litter collected so that recyclable plastic, glass, steel and aluminum are diverted and taken to the city’s recycling center.
In August and September, we collected 249 lbs. of recyclables. This is a pilot project so stay tuned. More trash cans would help reduce the street litter. We find the cans highly used where they exist, but vast swaths of downtown have no receptacles. Hopefully, this is something the city will consider.
The property owners of downtown stepped up 15 years ago to solve a community problem. The result has been a cleaner, more hospitable center city along with unprecedented growth in hotel, residential, dining and office development. In November, the city council will consider whether to extend the BID for another five (5) years. We are excited about the direction in which downtown is headed and are looking forward to supporting the current and future residents and business owners with an increasingly attractive and vibrant downtown area.
With your advocacy and the city’s renewed resolve for a litter-free community, perhaps the property owners outside of downtown will see the value to the elimination of litter from business centers (a huge problem — think of Springhill Avenue’s inexcusably filthy strip centers) as well as the city’s streets and boulevards. Efforts to train children to recycle, reduce waste and dispose of litter correctly need to be a top priority. This is necessary because change happens in generational time frames. Littering is a cultural norm and norms can be changed. A noble community effort this would be.
Downtown Mobile District Management Corporation/Downtown Mobile Alliance
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