One of the ideas put forward for Manchester’s “Clean and ‘Green’Spaces Initiative is for “Smart Bins” (see Pat Karney’s comments in last Tuesday’s Manchester Evening News.) Well, these words of warning come from someone who has seen them inaction in Philadelphia…Sign the petition!
The installation of ‘Smart Bin’ Big Belly trash compactors in central Philadelphia was celebrated as a means of keeping what is a fairly dirty city cleaner. As a resident of Philadelphia from 2009 to 2013, I can attest to their presence throughout the central business district and extending here and there into the outlying commercial districts. While I was happy to use these oversized trash cans when I could, I found that they didn’t live up to their promise. Oftentimes they were full to overflowing, leading people to litter the ground surrounding the bin. Changing residents’ willingness to litter is not done by installing more, bigger, smarter trash bins. The central business district of Philadelphia is already, by far, the cleanest in the city, due to public and public-private partnership, business-improvement district employees keeping the area constantly clean for workers and tourists.
Outside the central, prosperous neighborhoods, Philadelphia has an unfortunate abundance of urban poverty, vacant lots, and abandoned buildings; the combination of all three has meant that there is a significant problem with litter and trash. These outlying, marginalized neighborhoods also play into the city’s overall image as ‘green’ and sustainable–issues the mayor considers of great importance–and the need to find creative, economical solutions to both litter and general quality of life in these communities still exists.
Perhaps the introduction of ‘Smart Bins’ to central Philadelphia was a worthwhile financial expenditure in the minds of the city’s leaders, it has not created a perfectly clean, green downtown, and at the same time that not-insignificant amount of money could have been put to use elsewhere, in areas of the city that also could use investment. Making Philadelphians proud to live in what is typically considered an ‘underdog’ city, overlooked in favor of New York City and Washington, DC, has not occurred because of these ‘Smart Bins’. Efforts to build urban gardens, investments in local urban entrepreneurship often into minority businesses, and work increasing alternative transportation options, especially cycling, are all contributing to improving Philadelphia’s livability and green image. These city-wide efforts are much more organic and engaging with a cross-section of the city’s residents; they are what has contributed to the recent–and significant!–improvement in Philadelphia as a whole. These efforts do much more than the ‘Smart Bins’, and cost less as well.
The smart bins are a rubbish idea…