(We used to do this | Photo: Philly History)
Mayor Jim Kenney announced the creation of a Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet this week, which will spend the next six months figuring out how to turn Philadelphia into a "zero waste" city by 2035.
It's a highly ambitious goal that will require the city to confront the ineffectiveness of our current programs, our lack of a commercial trash policy, and crucially, our lack of citywide street sweeping services.
Street sweeping should be one of our bedrock municipal services, and Philadelphia did provide this service at one point, but as Ryan Briggs reported last year, the program was canceled in response to political pressure from residents who didn't want to move their cars.
Restoring the service has a political problem, not a money problem: it would cost only $18 million to buy the sweepers and just $3 million in annual salaries to clean the city every other week.
Jim Kenney pledged during the 2015 campaign to bring the service back, but after he was elected, he suggested there could be an opt-out provision for areas with strong opposition to alternate-side parking.
We've heard Councilman Mark Squilla's office is working on a street sweeping bill for 2017, so it's looking more and more like a real possibility that the service could be restored. To help provide some context for what we might expect, our intrepid intern Rachel Sandler researched the street sweeping services offered by many of our peer cities, and produced the chart at the bottom of the page.
New York City has the most expansive program, but most of our peer cities can claim to do at least something. Philadelphia is listed as having no city street sweeping service, which is technically true, although to be fair there is a patchwork of privately-funded street sweeping services offered by Business Improvement Districts and other organizations.
This is ultimately what bothers many of us who want to see the citywide service brought back though. Philadelphia city government provides some baseline of services that are truly city-wide, and then leaves it up to private or semi-private organizations to take some local initiative to layer on other privately-funded services.
Street sweeping has fallen into the second category, but it really belongs in the first. It shouldn't just be a service for rich neighborhoods with the capacity--both money and time--to raise the revenue locally. The idea of an opt-in or opt-out provision has an equity problem for this same reason, since in neighborhoods with limited resources, time for civic activism is also a limited resource.
The onus shouldn't be on local groups to organize politically to receive the service. It should be one of the services they get automatically, just for living in Philadelphia. Here's hoping street sweeping will be at the top of the Zero Waste cabinet's agenda.
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