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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004 05:57 am

“Clean city” depends on where you look

My first impression of Springfield was "What a clean city!" But the longer I live here, the more I understand that this impression depends on where one is in the capital city.

Yes, compared with any post-Soviet city, everything is neat in downtown Springfield: no discarded paper or shopping bags in the streets (which is normal in my home city, I am sorry to say). Here, you rarely find broken bottles or smashed cans on the sidewalks -- there are enough recycling bins to place them and high fines for littering. But as soon as you leave downtown, it becomes a different story. It is really difficult to find any "official" place for garbage.

For example, during my bicycle ride from downtown to the North End, I tried to find an appropriate place to discard an empty plastic bottle. Do you think I found one? Of course not! I had to carry the empty water bottle with me all the way. Will everybody do the same? It's doubtful. I confess, I even had a strong desire to add to the "still-life compositions" -- I mean, "rubbish piles" -- along Fifth Street.

However, strangers who couldn't find trash bins could not be responsible for all the piles of garbage that I saw in the alleys of west and south Springfield.

To my surprise, I've learned that some city residents can't afford to pay for the garbage-truck service and just dump all their rubbish near their houses.

Even in my Kazakhstan, which still struggles for economic stability, poor families get help from the state to pay for all the utilities. There is also a system of fines for those who break the rules of safe communal life in my home country.

I wonder why it is different here, in America? Don't city officials care about sanitation?

But even with appropriate trash cans placed near the houses, I tried to avoid jogging outside on Mondays and Thursdays in summer. The aromas of week-old remnants stopped me. Kazakhstan sanitation engineers would be shocked if I told them that the garbage containers here are emptied only once a week. There, the garbage trucks come by every day!

The second reason I prefer my treadmill to jogging on the streets on Mondays and Thursdays is purely aesthetic: Only a few houses along the way have nice-looking garbage cans; most are broken, dirty, and different in size and style. And many households seem to produce too much garbage for the containers they have. Old armchairs, washers, refrigerators without doors, gigantic broken plants, used doors -- all of these are standing on the side of the road on Mondays and Thursdays. These bulky things are difficult to jog around, and I believe they don't please the eye of any other Springfield resident.

During the leaf-pickup season, these "street ornaments" are found any day of the week -- for some reason containers with yard waste and paper bags with leaves wait for Monday's truck starting on the previous Wednesday. Why? I don't know. Maybe there was the same mess with the schedule for leaf pickups as with branch pickups? I know many residents placed cut limbs along the road (blocking sidewalks) almost a month early. Why? I'm thinking it's because they could not make out the tricky schedule for this city service!

But not everything about the Springfield garbage story is bad. Some residents have really impressed me by carefully sorting their recyclables, using several containers that take up space. I assumed these people receive a price break because they go through extra effort just for the privilege of protecting the environment. Amazingly, they don't.

Although I am getting accustomed to calling Springfield "my city," I can't help comparing it with the place where I lived for many decades. There is an old saying: "The truth is born by comparison."

So I hope my humble observations will help make Springfield better -- and cleaner, of course!

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