Swan Avenue Cleanup This Saturday

Just a friendly reminder that we’re having a cleanup on Swan Avenue this Saturday, September 18, from 8am to noon.   We’ll likely wrap up much earlier, thanks to a friend with a truck, and if you can only come for an hour, I would appreciate it greatly. 

Directions: go up Williamsberg Drive from Mill Street.  Take a left onto Outlook.  Park near the corner of Outlook and Swan and walk up Swan Avenue.

We’ll meet at the corner of Swan and Paris Avenues (or thereabouts; feel free to keep walking up Swan if you don’t see anyone).

Please bring a wheelbarrow if you have one.

We’re going to be cleaning the areas where the purple and red pushpins are on this map:

On a cleanup-related note:

Rarely does the subject of a column tick me off as much as this one did.

I would venture a guess that I deal with more of other people’s trash in a year than most non-garbage professionals in this city.  So on a very narrow level I’m sympathetic to Ms. Alexanian’s plight.  (That said, if the biggest problem some of us had is a park visitor dumping trash in a trash receptacle, we’d start dancing a jig.)

There are plenty of people in similar situations who want to clean up their park or neighborhood and who don’t consider graffiti a form of civil disobedience.  For those people, I’ve previously offered tips on organizing cleanups.  Here are some more:

1. Find a mentor.
Chances are there is someone in this city who knows who to call or how to approach a situation.  I have had plenty of help from the folks at the REC (for cleanups) and Colin (for “here’s who you need to call” advice).  In the cases of parks, perhaps it’s better to contact Park Spirit, members of the Parks Commission, or Bill Eddy (head of Youth, Parks, and Recreation subcommittee of the City Council).  (Please, no snickering at the last suggestion.)  Whatever you do, try to find someone who can help you navigate the system.

2. Look at yourself as the city’s partner.
I started doing cleanups with the “The city should be doing this/caring/paying attention” attitude.  And that angry attitude is understandable, but it just won’t get you very far unless you channel that anger into something productive.  I have found that complaining alone gets you nowhere.

I decided to stop looking at the city as my enemy in this situation, and start looking at the city as my partner in making this area a better place. 

Don’t just ask what the city can do for you.  Offer what you can do, and see how far they can meet you.  For this cleanup, we’re providing the volunteer hours to pick up and move trash to two central sites; the city is willing to pick up the trash during the week.  Sometimes you have to put in time (and make some phone calls) to get something done. 

3.  Develop long-term goals.
I have a ten-year plan for God’s Acre, and I’m in the middle of the third year of that plan.  Some of my earlier goals were to clean up the wooded part of Paris Avenue (done in year two) and get a barrier at the cart path to God’s Acre (done a month ago).  

My goals for the next two years are to get another area (a dirt drive that is a favorite spot for dumping) blocked off, clean the area along Goddard Memorial Drive, and continue to work with the GWLT to do trail improvements. 

For an area like Elm Park, you might have goals like: these five trees need to be replaced in the next three years; all benches need to have the wooden slats redone; the swings need to be replaced.  Focus on one of those goals as your first task until it gets done, and then move onto one of the next goals.  (You also have to accept that there are things that will always need to be done: trash is going to be a constant.  There’s just no way around that.)

4. Develop some mantras.
As those closest to me know, I pretty much live my life by AA platitudes.  (There’s nothing that calms me down more than my husband saying something like, “Let go and let God.”)  The one that works for me in the context of cleanups is something Colin said to me: “Just remember that if you were not picking this up, it would still be here.”  Those words continue to be a great comfort to me.

On my good days, I try to live by the AA-ish mantra “attitude of gratitude,” which I consider the secret to life.  This has really helped me shift my view from “why can’t they be doing more” to a more collaborative, gracious approach.  I can’t change what has happened in the past, and I can’t do everything, but I do try to be open and grateful to those who can help in any way they can.  (Again, this is on my good days.  On my bad days, I’m just plain grumpy.)

It is so easy to get upset when you work on a piece of property and see your work continually undermined.  Just put some Daft Punk in your iPod and start singing “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” to yourself.  You can do it, but you have to look at cleaning up as a continual battle.

5. Appeal to your elected officials.
I actually find this to be the least effective approach, but I do think it’s worth asking the following questions:
a) Why is it that Youth, Parks, and Recreation has only met one time this year? 
b) We’ve been told that Crompton Park will be getting improvements next year through money from CSX.  Are there other issues (like the Green Hill park playground chain ladder or the Elm Park benches) that also need to be fixed/replaced?  Why aren’t we as a community being asked which repairs are to be prioritized?

At the very least, you can start petitioning the Council for answers to these questions (or, simply, to ask for bench repairs in Elm Park) .

3 thoughts on “Swan Avenue Cleanup This Saturday

  1. Joe says:

    I had a similar reaction. Though your lengthy and eloquent post is better.

    Her graffito was actually addressed at two different constituencies:

    1) the people who dump their household trash in Elm Park (who we would hope are not actually DPW&P employees)

    2) DPW&P maintenance personnel (who would be the ones actually fixing the benches).

    I suspect the graffiti in the park is actually a priority over the fixing of benches.
    Our local park has had its share of graffiti, which is generally cleaned up quickly- when we call. We had a chain link fence that was knocked over by a car, it sat there for over two years (and then they didn’t bother to fix it, they just removed the whole thing.)

    • Nicole says:

      Regarding (1), my husband suggested that the person dumping might have been homeless. I have been known to carry a large bag on walks at the Parsons Cider Mill, collect the trash I find, and then “dump” that in the trash receptacle at the Goddard Memorial. While that may not have been the case here, what one perceives isn’t always the reality.

      Regarding (2), I think that’s a bit more where this should lie, and I do agree that graffiti is prioritized over a lot of other things. I don’t know how to get around the feelings that other things should be prioritized/noticed except by bringing things to DPW&P’s attention and working with them.

      Rob Antonelli said to me (in the context of something else) that it’s very difficult to get volunteers do something on a regular basis for a long period of time (like getting volunteers to mow the lawn in X Park all summer) but that one-off events (like Earth Day) are pretty successful because it’s relatively easy to get people to come for 3-4 hours one day of the year.

      I would also posit that there are people all over this city who are picking up trash on the side of the road, or in a park, or on conservation land, that DPW&P is unaware of (and also doesn’t quite know how to channel those folks into some sort of team).

      So why can’t we find a few projects every year that volunteers could do in a morning or afternoon? There have got to be 15-20 people in this city who can put up a chain link fence (like me) and who are willing to be on a DPW&P volunteer list.

  2. Tracy says:

    And this exchange is why it’s a shame there aren’t city councilors reading blogs in this city.

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