Thursday, July 12, 2007

Life, liberty, and … public garbage cans?

[Hometown Week, continued]

Sligocreek   What are the truly essential duties of government?  Most people would probably think of national security, police, schooling, and fire at the top of the list.  Beside fire protection, what land-use-related task must government do first?  In my view, trash collection in public areas needs to be at the top of the list, ahead of zoning, economic development, and social integration.  But then, I admit, I use the public parks a lot …      

   A few years ago, the local county government of my old hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, came up with a new idea -- it removed most of the garbage cans from the public parks.  The "carry in, carry out" policy was designed to save money and, supposedly, to encourage better habits of park users.  If you know anything about human behavior, it was a disastrous decision, as people simply left their garbage behind.  Especially poignant were piles of garbage in spots where the cans used to be.  (A somewhat similar phenomenon occurred on the Washington Metrorail when the platform trash cans were removed for security reasons; happily, enormous, bomb-resistant cans have returned.)  Quickly, however, public opposition restored the park garbage cans.  Walking through Sligo Creek Park in Silver Spring, which is a popular barbecue and picnic spot -- especially among immigrant groups -- I was pleased to find on July 5 that there was very little garbage left in the picnic spots. 

   Security, education, and public garbage cans.  The essential duties of government, yes?

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