My wife and I adopted a two-year-old chocolate lab mix from the Pennsylvania SPCA about five months ago.
Baxter is an energetic guy, the type who likes to run and jump and wrestle with other dogs, then drag mud into the house. Bax spends most of his day sleeping on the couch, but he’s a wild man outdoors.
I end up walking him about four times daily, which includes two quick jaunts around the neighborhood and two longer trips to the dog park, which is less than two blocks from our house.
Sometimes it’s hard even getting him to the park because of distractions along the way. There are stray cats on our street and two tree beds that always seem to contain a pile of un-scooped dog poop. Baxter usually tries to eat it, I pull him away, then we carry on down the street trying to avoid trash and debris.
Walking my dog sometimes feels like I’m just dodging hazards.
I do wonder if other streets are as dirty as mine. We can’t be the only block in Philadelphia plagued by poop-leavers and law breakers.
As an experiment, I decided to take Baxter to some other areas of the city to see what else is laying around. We walked ten blocks through three different neighborhoods and I wrote down what we saw while also trying to clean up some of it along the way.
Some blocks had multiple sidewalk hazards, so I tried to focus on the most outrageous distractions.
Block 1: dog poop inside a tree bed, maybe three days old.
Block 2: dog poop inside a tree bed, maybe four days old.
Block 3: cigarette butts, electrical tape, and a plastic straw next to burned out logs.
Block 4: a blackened banana peel with the “Dole” label still on it.
Block 5: This one was interesting. I counted seven clam shells inside of a styrofoam container, sitting on top of a plastic piece that looked like it fell from the underside of a car. A sign above the trash pile advertised a dozen 12-ounce PBR cans for $9.99, plus tax.
Block 6: Two separate dog poop piles on this block, one about two hours old and one two days old.
Block 7: Assorted trash and a discarded restaurant menu, probably one that was shoved in a door jamb but ended up blowing into the street. You can get egg and cheese on a long roll for $4.95.
Block 8: This was an overflowing trash can with cigarettes and ice cream on the ground, something resembling Vanilla. Baxter showed interest and had to be restrained.
Block 9: More dog poop
Block 10: (see above)
Block 1: A good start in the next neighborhood, with a paper McDonald’s cup sitting next to an old pile of dog poop.
Block 2: Baxter sniffed around in some ivy, which also contained a Sprite bottle and a hubcap.
Block 3: This block was totally clean.
Block 4: Nothing says Philly like a shattered Miller Lite bottle…
Block 5: …or a shattered Smirnoff Ice bottle
Block 6: Planters are supposed to hold plants, but this one held a Monster Energy and a Victory Hop Devil bottle.
Block 7: Is someone missing a work glove?
Block 8: A head-scratcher on this block. Someone appeared to have collected their dog poop in a green bag, then tied it up and left it on the ground. At least they made it halfway through the process.
Block 9: Baxter found a piece of broken bottle near a fence. Good boy, Baxter!
Block 10: A tangle of plastic and assorted styrofoam really added some Feng Shui to this street. Prospective new residents may have also found allure in the spit cup filled with tobacco and cigarette butts.
Block 1: Instead of a tree, an orange cone was placed nicely in the middle of a grassy sidewalk patch. The Sunkist soda can added some flavor as well.
Block 2: Baxter stopped to sniff an empty Steve Madden shoebox.
Block 3: A fresh pile of dog poop
Block 4: A stale pile of dog poop
Block 5: We came across a tree with decomposing newspaper wrapped around it. As a bonus, there was fresh dog poop on the sidewalk.
Block 6: This block was clear.
Block 7: This block was also clear. How about that?
Block 8: Four plastic containers being sucked into a storm drain. Baxter was drawn to the blueberry yogurt.
Block 9: This one had a side alley featuring all sorts of garbage. There was an upside-down trash can that may or may not have contained two wine bottles and assorted beer cans. I also spotted a Wegman’s paper bag, old pieces of siding, and an empty box of granola bars.
Block 10: A watery grave for a can of Oskar Blues and a 7-Eleven Big Gulp, both of which almost made it down the storm drain.
It’s a small sample size, but 27 of the 30 blocks I walked contained some sort of trash, discarded dog crap, or other hazard.
The three neighborhoods I visited were Fishtown, Pennsport, and Graduate Hospital, but there wasn’t any scientific process behind the selections.
I didn’t cherry pick the particular streets, or seek out trashy areas. I basically just pulled up to different spots, parked my truck, got out, and walked the ten blocks. It was late March, it had rained about seven hours earlier, and the temperature was in the high 50s. There are obviously a million different variables to consider.
Truthfully, the parameters aren’t that important, because you’re going to see these sights in most Philadelphia neighborhoods. Sure, Society hill is relatively clean and North Philly is relatively dirty.
But the reality is that we live in a grimy city.
There’s trash and dog poo and all sorts of stuff laying around on the streets or being blown out of garbage cans and recycling bins that are set outside for collection.
This isn’t a story about putting more waste cans on the street, or changing the way we do trash pick up in Philadelphia, or creating new laws and fines. It’s nearly impossible to catch people who leave poop on the sidewalk anyway.
It’s a story about responsibility, or lack thereof. The city looks the way it does because of our indifference. We’re the ones who let our dogs defecate all over the place. We see the trash on the street, but instead of disposing of it, we complain about it.
I’m guilty of it, too. I see broken glass, walk past it, then bitch to my wife when I get home.
“Who the hell leaves broken glass on the sidewalk?!”
It would probably take me two minutes to get a broom, walk outside, and sweep it up.
I’m sure you’re also thinking, “Well, this guy went around and took pictures of trash, but it’s still laying there.” Most of it is, yes, but I tried to grab some of it along the way. I’m only half a hypocrite here.
I also know that most of this is seasonal and cyclical. The annual Philly Spring Cleanup takes place in April. There are volunteer groups out there doing honest work with little recognition or fanfare. Maybe you’re out fixing up your block when the weather is nicer. I understand that mid-January isn’t the most appealing time to go outside with the dust pan and brush.
The key here is doing something tangible. We can talk about the problem and write goofy feature stories, but “raising awareness” doesn’t result in any garbage actually making it into a waste bin.
If we all took 15 minutes to clean up the area directly in front of our house or apartment, wouldn’t the entirety of Philadelphia be spotless?
We’re billed as a neighborly, blue collar city, but I don’t think that’s entirely true.
Look at the people who dig their cars out of the snow, put a parking cone on the street, and call it a day. That’s among the most selfish and annoying (and illegal) behaviors in Philly and we can do a lot better, like actually shoveling the sidewalk, too, or helping the elderly couple down the street.
It’s our job to take care of our neighborhoods and clean up after ourselves and our pets. It’s not someone else’s job. This isn’t about pointing fingers at city council or Mayor Kenney. God knows that running a city of one million people isn’t easy.
It’s about personal responsibility and taking some pride in where we live.