As a city of 8 million people became a city of 8.5 million, it only took a glance skyward at any given time to note the booming population in every borough, with tall towers and boutique buildings springing up like weeds in formerly less-bustling neighborhoods. It’s just as noticeable closer to the ground as an exploding population’s trash threatens to reach skyscraper proportions, too, taxing the city’s sanitation infrastructure. From street cleaning to curbside sanitation pickup to volunteer “adopt-a-basket” efforts in tourist zones and parks, the job of keeping the city clean is getting out of hand, the New York Times reports. Yet the garbage keeps growing. The city’s sanitation department spent $58.2 million last year to keep the streets clean, up from $49.5 million the previous year, as well as expanding and adding routes, putting more people on duty to empty sidewalk baskets and adding Sunday service; Staten Island got its first street sweeper last year.
Sanitation worker Mark Patton tells the Times that on his Williamsburg trash pickup route, he’s forced to come back around for a second sweep: “It’s a lot more litter for me to pick up, I can’t slack off at all.” And the past decade has seen a far cleaner city than it used to be: More than 90 percent of city streets have earned an “acceptably clean” rating in an annual scorecard inspection system, compared to 53 percent in 1980.
But as cleaner, safer neighborhoods attract cleaner, safer neighbors–and many more of them–keeping filth at bay becomes even important. In the South Bronx, where pols like Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. are making the point that the neighborhood is changing for the better, overflowing garbage cans undermine their efforts. And garbage, it seems, attracts more garbage. In Flushing, Queens, where there has been a notable rise in new residents and visitors, a sidewalk plaza has become known as “trash triangle” after tossed trash bags attracted more of the same.
In tourist-attracting public places like the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square, overflowing trash bins have prompted concern and action. At the former, cleanings have doubled, and the Times Square Alliance has invested $1.5 million on 385 newfangled waste-compacting bins to address what has become a “Mount Everest of trash bags.” Quoting Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner, “No one likes to see garbage piled up and falling on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Another problem with an increasing population is its vehicles and their seeming disregard for street cleaning rules. The Sanitation Department handed out 263,421 violations last year to drivers who didn’t move for street cleaning–up from 218,976 in 2010. Street litter, too, is a growing concern in neighborhoods where new residents appear not to comprehend collection schedules.
Though more people has meant more trash, the city hasn’t slacked in its efforts to keep up, from programs like NYC Cleanup–the program doubles as a job training program in which community organizations put formerly homeless or incarcerated people on cleaning crews–receiving $7.8 million in funding last year to strategic placement of trash and recycling baskets in busy areas to the dedicated worker whose job is picking up chewing gum–some 400 pieces a day–in Times Square.
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