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March 2005
Littered with accolades... or just littered
By John Paul Galles

In April of last year, Partners for Livable Communities named Charlotte “America’s Most Livable Large City” based on a wide variety of criteria (the center city, regionalism, leadership, neighborhoods, tourism, housing, finance, economy, human development, the environment, etc.) Charlotte seemed to take it in stride, as it has received good recognition from a number of studies and surveys in recent years.

The Partners group strives to restore and renew America’s communities, “to raise the banner of livability as both a consumer goal and a standard of excellence for municipal performance.” They champion the interrelationship between a community’s quality of life and its ability to attract and retain business investments, stimulate convention and visitor trade, increase downtown retail activity, and improve the city’s image to residents and non-residents alike.

While describing our city as having a warm climate, fine dining, many cultural facilities, tree-lined neighborhoods, safe environment, openness to new people and ideas, whoever did the evaluation must have been on a tall bus or toured Charlotte from high in the air, not to have seen what I see on a routine basis – trash. And lots of it.

Particularly ugly this time of year when the leaves are not yet on the trees and the grass is still brown, public areas and highways are strewn with trash, including styrofoam, broken mattresses, dead animals, paper and plastic bags, cigarette butts, fast-food containers, diapers and tire parts. It seems that everyone thinks these areas are dumping grounds at their immediate disposal.

Whatever happened to the Keep America Beautiful program?  The Keep America Beautiful campaign promotes that every person has a stake in their community, including a stake in the community’s litter problem: “Research and experience tell us that litter attracts the eye and, at times, litter attracts MORE litter. We have found that a clean community discourages littering and illegal dumping. Proper handling of litter and waste in a community raises the standards and expectations of everyone.”

In Charlotte, there are some concerned businesses, groups and organizations that volunteer to take responsibility for cleaning up public areas. As you drive on the highways, for example, you see the posted signs and are grateful for their work, their time and their effort. There are also inmate crews that perform community service by cleaning up alongside our highways.

Despite these efforts, though, there is such an overabundance of trash, in seemingly steady supply, that people must think that they need to keep littering their trash to make sure there is enough trash out there to keep those groups and inmates busy. For them, it is too much trouble to dispose of their trash properly. For them, the concept of picking up after themselves is a novelty. For them, the idea of taking personal responsibility for making the world a better place is truly a foreign concept.

While we are busy trying to attract “people and ideas” to Charlotte, we might want to attract more of an awareness of our litter problem from within Charlotte. And gating communities to keep out the “trash” is not an acceptable answer. The solution starts with each of us, individually. If, from this point on, each one of us did not discard another item inappropriately, we would have the problem solved in a major way – and without raising taxes or otherwise diverting resources from where they are really needed. Think about it. Those of you who smoke, that includes not tossing butts anywhere but a trash receptacle.

It is time to acknowledge our litter problem in Charlotte and bring the public and private sectors together to develop and promote a county-wide cleanliness ethic, to clean up, beautify and improve neighborhoods, thereby creating healthier, safer and more livable community environments. We have every reason to be proud of Charlotte. Isn’t it about time that we showed that we actually are? All the studies and all the accolades are not going to clean up our city or make it truly “livable.”

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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