Glorious Jabberwocky

I recently overheard a couple of frosh shooting the breeze:

“Yo dude, is it just me or is this city like really disgustingly dirty?”

After hearing this from a couple of obvious green horns, I must admit I was a little miffed and a tad defensive, but a quick glance around provided a confirmation of their words; a sea of filth which I had somehow stopped noticing.

If Ottawa is the big snore, and Toronto, the big smoke, then Montreal merits its own malodorous moniker… the big dump.

From paper cups to condoms, dog excrement to used hypodermics and my own personal favourite the ubiquitous publi-sacs rolling down the street like so many colourful tumbleweeds. This city is swimming in its own filth.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Montreal; its lush parks, unique people, and amazing food. I live and breathe Montreal. Hell, I am Montreal. But unfortunately, as such, I fear that I am long overdue for a visit with a hot bath and some steel wool.

What is to blame you might ask? Well as usual the problem is multifaceted and therefore hard to pin down. But one thing’s for sure; people are garbage machines. We live in a disposable society and we’re just too damned busy to hike to the nearest garbage can. But really, who can blame us when that hike more often than not takes us four blocks out of our way? Whether it’s the dearth of trash receptacles or simply no one emptying them, most trash ends up under foot.

Whatever the cause, one thing is certain, the garbage is hurting the city, and something should be done. What first? Well, awareness.

Remember the term ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’? how about ‘pack it in pack it out’ ? These were the catchphrases of most people’s youth and were intended to induce an acute aversion to littering of any sort. I propose a return to the cheesy catchphrases of yore. The children are the future right? So give them something to believe in. Education about civic responsibility and cleanliness needs to start in school. Kids should be encouraged to learn about reduction of waste, and the proper disposal of trash. This would ensure a future devoid of carefree litterbugs.

What to do about the stubborn grown-ups? Well, humans are pack animals and one tenet of group behaviour is that no one wants to break the ice, i.e. People usually walk in lock step and are usually less likely to litter if the street is filth free, but as soon as the tidyness slips, it’s curtains for cleanliness.

And that’s where the bag brigades come in. Bag brigades are teams of people who are paid to go out into the city’s core areas armed with a broom and a bin and tidy up. This, coupled with more conveniently located, intelligently designed garbage cans, could significantly reduce the filth problem. I would also suggest that the cans be distinctively decorated, preferably by local artists, so as to not only make trash disposal easy, but also fun, fun, fun, for the whole family! But really, that would just be icing on the trash cake.

While this issue has been given lip service by local politicians and inspired so-called “cleanliness initiatives,” the problem persists. Firstly, because no real concrete actions have been taken. And secondly because the mentality of Montreal’s residents has yet to change.

Our city is dirty because we don’t insist on cleaning it up.

For those who say that it can’t be done, witness New York City. The big apple was long derided for its lack of cleanliness. But in the 1990s the city underwent a transformation under Rudolph Giuliani’s Mayoralty. While Giuliani took a heavy handed approach to cleaning up, including virtually outlawing homelessness, his crusade against garbage was successful. Manhattan is now a beacon of cleanliness, and an example for other big cities.

For the love of our city, we should all take responsibility for keeping it clean by communicating with borough leaders and participating in local clean-up efforts.

Until then, what should one say to the frosh? “Just wait till you see Montreal in March boys.”

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