Let’s say you’re in Downtown Detroit, perhaps on your way to the Auto Show at Cobo Hall, and you’ve just finished eating a candy bar. What do you do with the wrapper?
A. Keep it in your coat pocket until you can throw it away at home.
B. Keep it in your coat pocket until you find a garbage can somewhere.
C. Throw it on the street–it’s just Detroit, after all.
D. Eat it–it’s got chocolate on it!
I hope most people would pick ‘A’ or ‘B’. I assume ‘D’ isn’t a good idea, but I’m not a doctor. (ハハハ) It’s ‘C’ that bothers me. Litter bugs the crap out of me because it makes places look dreadful, yet is so easy to prevent. Litter Downtown really bugs me because there is at least one garbage can per block on Woodward and the other major streets that radiate out from Downtown. There are probably different reasons why people litter, but the “It’s just Detroit” attitude is, I think, one of the major ones. And it really, really irks me, because the people littering are the same ones who live and/or work here, or live nearby in the suburbs.
Here’s why I hate the “It’s just–” attitude: if something, someplace, or someone is looked down on, and you have the power to change things for the better, why not use that power, rather than say “It’s just–” and go along with a crappy situation? If you live in Detroit, how can you disrespect yourself like that? And if you live in the less famous suburbs, why are you willing to let outsiders look down on you simply because you can turn a blind eye to Detroit’s condition? You may say to yourself, “Not littering or picking up litter isn’t going to change the massive economic and social problems Detroit has.” But I’d say you’re wrong. Because when people see a dirty, litter choked area, they think, “these people don’t deserve to be helped.” When residents think that nobody cares, they feel powerless to change things, even when they do have power. Even abandoned lots don’t look nearly as bad when there’s no litter on them.
There’s a small park near my house, recently built, that I walk through as a shortcut. It has a community garden. It’s a really nice place, and the only park in this neighborhood (until about 10 years ago, this wasn’t a residential area). It made me angry when people graffitied the playscape with their idiotic “Pookie loves JJ” or “F*** Joe” nonsense. About two years ago gang signs appeared, and that made me even angrier. Thankfully, someone in the community must’ve had some QuikCrete or something, because the gang signs on the sidewalk were quickly covered over with it. But, I can understand the gangbanger’s ill-conceived desire to tag stuff. It’s not excusable, but it is understandable. The following, however, is not.
One day in 2006 as I walked through the park I noticed that the garden’s sitting area was particularly trashed. There were beer bottles everywhere, the boxes they had come in where there, plastic plates, cups, forks, knives and cups strewn about, specialty napkins, and a birthday cake box. Someone had had a birthday party in the park and left the mess there! Unbelievable! The park’s single garbage can was overflowing, and the people had brought a big garbage bag which was likewise overflowing, but more importantly, it was still there! They had come to enjoy the clean park, but had left a mess, preventing others from doing the same. I even found the receipt for the birthday cake! It was purchased at the supermarket a couple blocks from the park, so I think it’s likely that whoever left that mess lives in the neighborhood.
I’m not one to bitch without doing anything. I was so angry I went home and got a bunch of plastic bags. I tied them on my hands like gloves, went back to the park, and picked all that shit up. (I’m getting angry just thinking about it!) I didn’t like having to put all that mess in my house’s waste bin, but the thought of having my neighborhood park in such a disgraceful state was even more odious. My neighbors happened to drive by, and waved, but had a funny look on their faces. Perhaps they thought I was doing court-ordered community service. (Which is another thing that bugs me. Why do we use bettering the community as punishment? What kind of message does that send?) But I didn’t care. I had the power to change things for the better and I used it. I even taped a sign to a post to the effect of, “This is our park, it is our only park, it’s up to us to keep it clean.”
The part not covered by tape was torn off within two days. That ticked me off, but I would’ve done it again. I felt like I had made a ripple of positivity. And, maybe it was just a coincidence, but a month or two after that, permanent signs were installed that said pretty much the same thing my sign had said. I still pick up random pieces of trash. Even if it’s just one. If people see me, maybe they’ll be inspired to do the same, and even better, to stop littering.
It’s not “just Detroit.” It’s my city. It’s my home. It’s your city and your home, too. It’s your metro area, your region.
Who has the right to complain about the way things are that does nothing to change them?