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Archive for June 14th, 2007

Red, White and Broom

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I’d waited for years. Summer after summer, following my move to Columbus, I looked for evidence that my alley had been swept. It never happened. Debris from construction projects, rocks, pebbles, decaying leaves, twigs (and sometimes branches) litter my alley. Nails can be found on most every walk through. My alley isn’t as bad as some further south, but I felt that five years without a cleaning was pushing it.

After six years, I decided to call the City and find out when my alley would be scheduled for cleaning. I was told that the City of Columbus doesn’t sweep alleys.
“We don’t have the equipment to sweep them”, I was told.
“The city does sweep the streets”, I commented. “Why not just swing through the alleys while you’re doing the streets?”
“Our equipment isn’t designed to sweep alleys”, the City employee told me.
“You use Elgin sweepers, don’t you?”
“Yes”.
“As does the City of Minneapolis, and they have their alleys swept twice a year”.

With that comment, the discussion turned to scheduling.
“The weather creates scheduling problems” was the next statement.
“How is that?” I asked.
“We have to postpone sweeping during inclement weather”.
“Interesting. I notice that certain neighborhoods have scheduled street sweeping, and, for example, the City of Minneapolis schedules their street sweeping, notifying residents with temporary signs a few days before, allowing them time to move their cars”.
“Columbus can’t do that”.
“Why?”
“First, the city is too dense. Where would the cars be moved to? And secondly, those temporary signs get stolen”.
“Dare I say that Minneapolis is far more dense than Columbus? Secondly, cardboard street sweeping signs don’t seem to get stolen in Minneapolis”.

Once again, the excuses changed course.
“It is the residents responsibility to clean the alley adjacent to their property”.
“Then why is that not enforced?”
“We don’t have the funds available to do that right now”.
“I see. So at one time, the funds were available?”
“No”.
“In other words, is it safe to say that Columbus has a policy of neglect?”
The tone of the employee became escalated.
“We simply don’t have the funds to clean alleys”.

I felt that further questioning might help me get to the root of this issue, so I continued.
“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that not cleaning the alleys only adds to the amount of street cleaning that must be done? After all, that debris eventually finds its way to the street, then creates a greater problem as it potentially clogs the run-off sewers?”

Despite the logic presented, the response of the city employee remained, “We don’t have the funds to clean alleys”. He seemed to be getting a bit hot under the collar.

“How would I go about making a special request to have my alley swept?”
“Under extreme circumstances, an alley can be inspected. If it’s found to be a specific problem, then the city will have it swept”.
“Excellent! Then you do have the equipment to clean alleys, correct?”
“We do not have the equipment to sweep alleys”.
“You just said that the city could make exceptions. And I’d like to request an exception”.
The city worker continued.
“If, after inspection, an alley is found to be specifically problematic, workers are dispatched with brooms, and manually sweep up the debris”.

Year Seven:
Departing the alley to the east in the morning has the feel of Las Vegas, as countless shards of glass sparkle in the sunlight. To the west, at night, it’s like a satellite view of The Strip. Taking matters into my own hands, I’ve begun sweeping the alley myself. Section by section, after two mornings with the push broom and dustpan, I’ve cleaned the debris along five consecutive lot lines.

That got me thinking.

If Columbus alleys hadn’t been swept, ever, then most residents would welcome the sight of a team of broom-wielding workers. And since summer is the logical time to get the job done, why not dress the workers in some type of snazzy uniform. Short shorts, maybe. Tank tops, steel-toed boots (for safety, of course) and make an event out of it.

Red, White and Broom!

Just like the hoards of people who flock to see the multi-million dollar expenditure on fireworks, (there seems to be funding for that) neighbors could line up, lawn chairs in tow, at their back property line and watch hunky, well-toned city workers clean their alley. Tip jars could be fastened to the utility polls (hands off the workers, please) and a local dance company could choreograph the routine, creating art within work.

As word spread, other neighborhoods would bid to have Red, White and Broom perform in their alleys. A web site could be created where neighbors “anted up” with donations and the successful “bid” would be announced a few days prior, giving folks time to make lemonade and prune back obstructed views.

And there we have it. Neglect becomes performance art, funding becomes possible, and residents find both entertainment and reward within the confines of their own back yard.

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