Earth Day came and went Tuesday, and thanks to the efforts of some 30-40 community and corporate volunteers, Schenectady’s Jerry Burrell Park has a new lease on life. Now if only it would last.
As Wednesday’s Gazette story detailed, the volunteers raked, swept, scrubbed graffiti and bagged a winter’s worth of detritus, leaving the park habitable once again by the families for which it is intended. Smaller-scale efforts of this type occur fairly regularly at the park, thanks to the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, but obviously not regularly enough given the scope of the problem.
And Burrell is hardly the only park in Schenectady, or Hamilton Hill the only neighborhood, that looks like a pigsty more often than not. Schenectady has a litter problem that is threatening the quality of life in its neighborhoods. If all people see when they look around is fast-food containers, scratch-off lottery tickets, empty cigarette packs and butts, it’s difficult to take pride in where they live and to behave accordingly.
Litter provides a slippery slope that encourages people to stop caring — about whether their lawn is mowed, the paint on their house is peeling, their sidewalk is crumbling, etc. And when they break a small law and get away with it (as is often the case in Schenectady, where police tend to focus on only the most serious offenses), it encourages them to break larger ones.
That the city has done a good job spiffing up its downtown is undeniable, but the neighborhoods need work, too. Why aren’t there at least a few more garbage cans around them (as downtown has), giving people with litter a place to dump it? Why aren’t police — or somebody, anybody — paying more attention to quality-of-life issues, like litter, in the neighborhoods?
If parents won’t teach their kids about things like littering, schools must. Then the kids can turn around and enlighten their parents — as has been the case, to some extent, with smoking.
Cultural changes don’t occur overnight, unfortunately, and until one takes place, regular cleanups are going to be necessary. The city obviously doesn’t have the means to clean up after litterbugs, so volunteers will have to step up. Churches, civic groups, neighborhood associations, politicians, fraternal organizations, Scouts, Little Leaguers, businesses: All should pitch in and coordinate their efforts if they want to reverse this ugly tide and improve the city’s looks. And the effort can’t be just once or twice a year, but continual.
The more people get involved, the cleaner things will start to look. And that will put pressure on the slobs to clean up their acts.