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Forbes.com

 

New Yorkers, Give A Hoot!

July 19, 2009

By Heather Mac Donald

Time for some trash talk.

As the Metropolitan Transit Authority raises fares and reduces spending, it will undoubtedly be tempted to economize further by cutting the subway cleaning budget. The agency must avoid doing so at all costs. Nothing signals a city out of control more decisively than a filthy public-transit system. If trash starts piling up again on subway platforms and in subway cars, New Yorkers will know that the time to despair has arrived.

But it need never come to that point. Subway litter is a problem that New Yorkers can solve for themselves simply by changing their ways. There is no possible excuse for leaving a half-drunk cup of coffee on a subway floor, dropping a candy wrapper on a platform or abandoning a newspaper on your seat as you exit a train. The execrable habit of dropping trash in public areas does not belong in a world-class, civilized city.

Public space in America has traditionally been a place of civic engagement and shared citizen responsibility--unlike public space in less-developed countries, a no-man’s-land for which no one takes responsibility and from which everyone with the money to do so retreats into private, guarded enclaves.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to teach the slobs among us a minimum of respect for the public realm. The MTA and city leaders should start an ad campaign to shame people into cleaning up after themselves. The nation’s original beautification effort, Keep America Beautiful, began in New York City in 1953 when a group of concerned citizens, business leaders and government officials decided to tackle the problem of litter on highways. A series of public-service campaigns followed; anyone who grew up in the 1960s remembers the slogan “Don’t Be a Litterbug” and Lady Bird Johnson’s involvement in the effort. Such public messages do play a role in shaping people’s values.

Plenty of up-and-coming advertising agencies hurting for business right now might jump at the opportunity to get their work into the public eye. They should be persuaded to contribute their talents for free or for minimal fees. In Dublin, Ireland, reports Chris Caldwell in The Weekly Standard, trash cans currently remind residents, litter is disgusting and so are the people responsible--a bracing bit of honesty from which New Yorkers could certainly benefit.

Additionally, the city could ask school students to design catchy subway posters reminding people to take their trash with them. Though the police department faces budgetary pressures, commanders should tell officers to be on the lookout for litterers. Discarding personal refuse in public is not a harmless act; it erodes the health of a city as surely as higher-level crime does, if with less immediate danger. Subways are particularly critical areas: Confined, threatening to many, they elicit from tourists and potential commuters acute sensitivity to visual signs of disorder.

In this time of belt-tightening and budget shortfalls, New Yorkers should increase the number of things they do without government assistance. Behaving responsibly in the subways is a good place to start.

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/2009/07/19/mts-new-york-trash-subway-fares-opinions-contributors-heather-mac-donald.html

 

 
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