Monthly Archives: July 2008

Tony Thomas talks trash


I was recently watching a long-running reality television series on Comcast cable channel 8. TV Guide described the most recent episode of “Savannah City Council Meeting” as a “regular meeting of Savannah’s mayor and aldermen.” The episode I watched was taped before a live studio audience on July 17.

Near the end, Tony Thomas—who joined the cast of “Savannah City Council Meeting” during the 2000 season—described a recent visit to an illegal trash dump. Thomas was clearly angered by the pile of trash which contained, among other items, a “Christmas statue” and a “fish aquarium.” Also present was paint, which Thomas feared had leaked into a nearby watershed. Thomas went the extra mile, digging through the refuse to find discarded mail that could point back to the origin of the garbage.

On July 23, the Savannah Morning News reporter Eric Curl followed up with “Alderman: Illegal dumpers should be trashed.” Thomas is suggesting a new way to discourage the practice: humiliation. Here’s a snip from Curl’s story:

Aside from issuing fines, Thomas is also advocating the installation of cameras in problem areas and “public shaming.” He said the city should adopt a program where the illegal dumpers are filmed cleaning up trash sites and then broadcast the video on the government channel. “That would make you think twice if you got caught doing something like that,” Thomas said.

Is public shaming the answer? If so, what other public nuisances could be curbed with this tactic? Personally I’m wondering about an appropriate sanction for the legions of lawn care professionals who use leaf blowers to move trash and yard waste from private properties onto public streets and sidewalks.

The myth of the environag

Some of my fellow citizens have written letters to the editor of the Savannah Morning News complaining about high gasoline prices. The vast majority of these advocate offshore drilling and/or cracking down on shadowy speculators, who are allegedly driving up the price of oil. The beauty of both these suggestions that they conveniently allow us to blame others for the fix we’re in. Even folks who are big on bootstraps and personal responsibility are happy to shift into helpless victim mode when it comes to our dependence on oil.

From one of the recent letters to the editor, I learned a new term: environag.

Then I wondered if I am one.

Is it nagging to push for policies that reward responsible behavior? Is it nagging to oppose policies that subsidize or encourage wasteful or destructive practices? Is it nagging to point out that our quest for cheaper oil will ultimately put us in a much more dangerous place than our current predicament? Here’s a snip from Tom Freidman’s recent column, published in a newspaper popular with environags:

“When a person is addicted to crack cocaine, his problem is not that the price of crack is going up. His problem is what that crack addiction is doing to his whole body. The cure is not cheaper crack, which would only perpetuate the addiction and all the problems it is creating. The cure is to break the addiction.

Ditto for us. Our cure is not cheaper gasoline, but a clean energy system. And the key to building that is to keep the price of gasoline and coal — our crack — higher, not lower, so consumers are moved to break their addiction to these dirty fuels and inventors are moved to create clean alternatives.

We shouldn’t waste our time complaining about being nagged, when the real problem is our untreated addiction. Unless the true goal is to distract ourselves from the reality of our situation.

Tip of the hat to The Wash Cycle for “The Myth of the Scofflaw Cyclist.

Broken windows on wheels

I joined a capacity crowd yesterday at the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority to hear the Historic Savannah Foundation’s Melissa Jest and Clara Fishel of Melaver (and this Web site) speak about the idea that green buildings and historic preservation and not mutually exclusive terms. I’ll probably write alittle about their excellent presentations later on.

But, if I may be permitted, I’d like to explore something else I heard yesterday.

During the “intermission” between the Clara’s and Melissa’s presentations, SDRA Executive Director Lise Sundrla offered an informative presentation which included a reference to the broken window theory. The basic idea is that when broken windows, littered sidewalks and graffiti are allowed to persist in a neighborhood, they collectively form a sort of bat signal that alerts criminals to neighborhood in distress. And thus property crimes like vandalism become more frequent, leading to more serious crimes. As I mentioned in a previous post, when crime goes up, sustainability goes down.

tennis.jpgI understand the theory has its critics, but I’d like to offer one area in which I’ve seen the broken window theory proven again and again. When motorists learn that they can park their cars in crosswalks, on tree lawns, in bike lanes, on sidewalks and even (in the case of my neighborhood) on tennis courts, they become repeat offenders. And others follow their example.

crosswalk.jpgSo what’s the big deal about illegally parked cars? Another portion of Lise’s presentation described the value of public space. When automobiles are allowed to invade public spaces, those spaces become degraded and our neighborhoods become places we care less about. Not to mention the inconvenience and potential hazards they represent to pedestrians and cyclists. I think it also could be argued that cars parked all over the place could indicate a neighborhood in which anything goes.


Plus — and I know this is a personal hang-up I should try to get over — I love being able to look down the streets of our historic neighborhoods, with their consistent streetwalls, and see unobstructed sidewalks running blocks and blocks into the distance. When I see the hindquarters of an illegally parked Nissan Maxima interrupting the continuity, I have to think Gen. Oglethorpe would share my disapproval.