By Sharon Adarlo
I am really proud of Newark, a scrappy, striving place. The city is on a definite upswing from the doldrums of mass white disinvestment in the mid-20th Century. We have great institutions such as the library, art museum and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, who are committed to active engagement with the community. The skyline bristles with new buildings and cranes—attesting to the pro-development stance at city hall. Mayor Ras Baraka has been a great leader; he’s advocated for initiatives that enhance equity such as the recently announced crackdown on anonymous LLCs buying up homes; he also rains down opportunities in areas far outside the downtown district, e.g. the new movie studios coming to the South Ward. What an incredible get.
There is a lot of undeniably great stuff happening in the city; it’s exciting and makes me very optimistic about the trajectory of the city. But there are aspects about Newark that gets me down and grates my soul. It’s the incredible amounts of trash and litter all over our streets and sidewalks.
Downtown Newark is largely clean due to the army of yellow-shirted staff who pick up litter and empty the trash cans in the bustling parts of the Central Ward. But what about the other areas of Newark? Trash is everywhere, from the West to the South Ward.
I was once walking around my neighborhood in East Kinney Street, between Mulberry and Broad streets, and saw quintessential urban tumbleweed: a discarded hair weave rolling down the street while it picked up tiny pieces of paper and candy wrappers in its tentacles. Here’s what else I have seen around my neighborhood and in other wards: shards of broken liquor and beer bottles all over sidewalks, making walking hazardous; dried and picked over chicken legs; used condom wrappers; moldy food strewn all over; cigarette butts; plastic packets of exploded ketchup; and let’s not forget the dog poop—so much, so much dog poop. To completely butcher Coleridge: dog poop, dog poop everywhere and not a dog scooper in sight. I hate the trash so much. I am sure I am not the only one. Who wants to walk their kids to school (there are almost a dozen near me) while they navigate street and sidewalk hazards? My own car and others have gotten flats from random nails on city streets, forcing us to miss work.
Why is there so much trash in Newark and why does it persist? I think it’s due to a lack of care from outsiders, residents and a lack of trash cans in areas outside the downtown district. During the pandemic shutdown in March 2020, our street was the cleanest ever from all the years I have lived here. There were no office workers throwing away spent cigarettes or empty candy wrappers. No fellow residents throwing away beer bottles. No dogs and irresponsible owners making walking a misery.
I am not sure of the solution. Perhaps a general PSA on trash and littering and more enforcement? More fines towards dog owners who won’t pick up after Fido? More trash cans outside the downtown district? Perhaps, each neighborhood should become a designated improvement district, much like downtown and portions of Ferry Street, Lower Broadway, and Mount Prospect Avenue, which receive regular cleaning services and trash cans.
Even with existing enforcement and city services, things remain spotty. For example, while Mulberry Street in front of the federal courthouse gets regular street cleaning, our neighborhood—East Kinney between Mulberry and Broad—has not gotten swept by street cleaners in what seems like years. Dirty clothes, rusty nails and random litter have remained persistent and unwanted inhabitants of our street. And yet our household received a virtual court summons for keeping some old furniture on a side yard, within our property line, in anticipation of bulk refuse days. The city has time to fine me but no time to clean my street. That doesn’t seem fair.
Newark is doing really well. There is so much to be proud of in this city. So why are we letting our city get trashed?
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