Alleyways in Southeast Baltimore ought to be pristine given the amount of attention they receive from the Department of Public Works. This part of the city was the only place that came close to getting their alley cleanup requests to the 311 system completed on time, according to an analysis by The Baltimore Sun. A few outlying neighborhoods — Bolton Hill, Coldspring and Franklintown — also managed to yield a timely response from public works crews in the first 10 months of the year.
Most Baltimore residents weren’t so fortunate, with some complaining they have to report problems multiple times to get results — and well after the seven days the city promises to fix issues.
I guess we aren’t really surprised. One doesn’t have to look to hard to find a trash-strewn alley, curb, underpass or street corner in this city.
For some, it might be easy to think that the richer, wealthier neighborhoods were deemed a priority, a concern often raised in this extremely segregated, high poverty city with pockets of affluence. The argument came up recently when a city audit found the tony Cross Keys condominium complex in Northwest Baltimore had been getting an extra trash day for a decade at a cost of $100,000 to the city. Nobody seems to be able to explain how residents there got two trash days instead of one without approval by the city’s spending board.
But in the case of keeping alleys clean, there really was no clear pattern for why the Southeast seemed to have gotten better service. The city’s failure at equitable alley cleanup certainly isn’t a case of the haves and have nots.
Sure, the Southeast includes the higher income areas of Canton and Fell’s Point. It is also home to low-income neighborhoods like Berea and McElderry Park. Not to mention that there were plenty of other well-to-do neighborhoods in others parts of the city, that often get accused of benefiting from favortism, whose alleys sure aren’t getting preference from the public works department. Roland Park in the northern part of the city placed 15 requests for alley clean up and only 6.7% were completed on time, while Homeland made seven requests for cleanup only to see just 14.3% finished on time.
The disparity could be a sign that the division chief in charge of the Southeast is just better at his or her job, than the other four geographic quadrants public works divides the city. Or maybe the residents and City Council members in that area are more aggressive in their demands. Fifty calls to 311 about the same alleyway might attract more attention than a call from one person.
Whatever, the reason, the city needs to get it together. Citizens have complained long enough about alleyways filled with old clothes, tires, food containers and whatever else people choose to dump and leave behind. Let’s also remind Mayor Jack Young that he made trash a priority when he took office earlier this year. The Baltimore Sun analysis only proves it is a priority in certain neighborhoods, but apparently not all of Baltimore. Each quadrant should have a goal for a clearance rate and there should be consequences when it falls short. Where is the accountability.
A cleaner city could go a long way in addressing some of the city’s other issues, most notably crime. Trash piles make great hiding places for drug piles. A clean city also will give residents something to feel proud about. It’s much easier to feel despair in a depressing looking environment. Dirty cities also become easy targets for critics — like say President Donald Trump.
We understand that Baltimore resources are strapped, but that can’t be an excuse to do better. At some point the city needs to learn to use what it has in smarter and more innovative ways. Other industries have had to do it, including newspapers.
Creation of the city’s 311 system was cutting edge and has in many respects done a lot to improve city services, but the response to alley clean up has exposed weaknesses. Maybe it’s time for an evaluation on how it can be improved.
City officials have directed more resources to the southwest district in wake of the equities and is working on improving response rates. That is a good sign. We hope the department follows through.