I took advantage of this weekend’s relatively mild weather to run some errands around my neighbourhood. While doing that I couldn’t help but notice all of the garbage on the ground. At some locations, usually in front of bars, it was just disgusting.
This got me to thinking… How can we fix, or even better prevent, this problem? At first I thought that maybe sidewalk/gutter garbage should be treated the same way that we treat ice and snow: The property owner is responsible for keeping any adjacent sidewalks, their adjacent gutters, free of garbage. Failure to do so would result in a fine.
But then after talking about this idea with my Husband, I realized that this might not be the best choice. For one thing, garbage can easily travel. Would it really be fair to fine someone because a piece of paper happened to blow onto her sidewalk just before the by-law officer appeared?
So now I have a different, and I think better, approach. It’s a two-parter, with the first part based on my original idea. If I ran the city, and could create my ideal Toronto (MIT), I would put in place a by-law that could see property owners fined if adjacent sidewalks and gutters were oh, let’s go with a third or more covered in garbage. Because unfortunate things can sometimes happen, a warning would be issued for the first offense of each year. But after that, a fine would be levied.
This by-law would really be targeting those problem properties that oh, for random example, leave their sidewalks covered in cigarette butts. Citizens could report these properties via the usual channels, including 311. By-law officers would also keep an eye out for them and would really be looking for the extreme cases and the repeat offenders, not the person who’s garbage can choice that moment to spill all over the place.
The second part would use an incentive to keep things clean. I’m not entirely clear on exactly how this would work but the end result would be giving property owners who have garbage-free sidewalks and gutters some kind of reward, maybe bonus overflow garbage bag stickers or even a small rebate on their property taxes.
I don’t think surprise inspections are the best way to do this. Instead, I’m picturing each ward being assigned a specific time period when a by-law officer would be checking out sidewalks and gutters. Residents would be encouraged to clean things up ahead of this visit and those with clean sidewalks and gutters would be rewarded (for fairness sake, the odd bit of blowing paper would be overlooked).
Ideally this event would happen twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Property owners would receive plenty of notice, via the mail as well as community notice boards, about this event. Those who didn’t participate wouldn’t be punished, as long as under a third of their sidewalk and gutter space wasn’t covered in garbage. And maybe the sidewalk clean-ups could be tied in with a neighbourhood’s community environment days, to better get the word out and to capitalize on that event’s momentum.
I have no idea what this program would cost. I like to think that between the fines it would bring it and it lowering the need for street cleaning, it wouldn’t really cost that much, even if it did offer oh, let’s say, three, free overflow garbage tags (this would be just under $10).
I know that this city has some much, much bigger problems than dirty sidewalks but unlike say, the future of the Gardiner, it’s a problem that I think is fairly solvable and for not that much money. As well, and I know that some people will disagree with me on this, I firmly believe that keeping a city clean and visually appealing is a crucial part of creating a thriving, progress place to live.