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Jack Smith

The litter disease has taken over most major cities but sweeping reforms have overtaken our Broadway

August 19, 1985|JACK SMITH

I am not much given to crusades. Ordinarily I use this space to reflect the abundant follies and pleasures of an imperfect world.

My few crusades have crashed like Icarus, their wings melting in the sun of my hopes.

I need only recall my aborted effort to change the politically inspired name MacArthur Park back to the original Westlake.

So I won't call my recent concern with the trashiness of our streets a crusade. But I do believe something can and should be done about it.

As I noted the other day, Herb Caen has finally blown the whistle on San Francisco's trashiness--especially the cable-car corner of Market and Powell--calling it "San Francisco's shame."

We have our own shame. The city everywhere is trashy, but South Broadway, from 1st Street to 9th, which used to be the main drag of our pretentious little metropolis, is a dump--so filthy it justifies the word appalling , which many readers have used in describing it.

To walk down Broadway on a Saturday afternoon is to aggrieve the spirit. The sidewalk is carpeted with paper and plastic wrappers and containers of every sort, and the waste baskets are spilling over.

"Frequently my husband and I drive down Broadway on a Sunday morning," writes Eve Black of Inglewood, "when the town is quiet, and we are appalled by the filth. As you comment, there are many trash containers, but these are overflowing, obviously not emptied often enough; and no one, but no one, sweeps the sidewalks. . . ."

But wait--something seems to be happening!

"Something is being done," writes Bruce LaLanne, "to clean up Broadway. The city has a new clean-up crew sweeping up the litter on both the sidewalks and gutters. The sweepers wear bright red coveralls and white caps. I noticed them yesterday at 10:30 a.m., coming down Broadway between 4th and 5th streets. At 7th and Broadway, the new tile sidewalk around the new St. Vincent's Galleria is hosed down each morning. . . ."

The same phenomenon is described in more detail by Allen E. Jones of Reseda. "I appreciated your column concerning the sorry state of our streets in the heart of downtown," he writes. "This is the most fascinating *!**Uand bustling part of the city, and has been neglected far too long.

"You may not be aware that in the last couple of weeks a marked improvement has been made. In apparent anticipation of your column, the Community Redevelopment Agency granted money to the Skid Row Development Corp. to clean up Broadway from 1st to Olympic. This past week I had the chance to see this cleanup crew in action. One can hardly miss them in their red uniforms. Best of all, the crew is made up of men who are or have been residents of SRDC's transition house.

"Granted, this is only a small part of what must be done; however, I am hoping that as people see what is being done on Broadway, the heart of L.A., the desire to clean up will contagiously spread to the adjacent areas. . . ."

Evidently litter is a nationwide disease, and has most of our big cities in its grip.

Even Newport Beach, the glamour city of the South Coast, has not escaped:

"You should see the Newport Beach ocean-front sidewalk and the pier," writes Elinor G. Wood. "I walk there nearly every morning and suffer at what I see. One day's count: a man's bathing trunks, two tennis shoes, one girl's panties, one high-heel woman's shoe, three socks, two T-shirts, a half-buried towel, and what looks like a million pieces of plastic spoons, forks, boxes, plates, cups, straws, hamburger food wrappers and empty film boxes. . . ."

Philip Schechter, also of Newport Beach, sends a clipping from the Providence Journal revealing that Providence, R.I., also has suffered the plague of litter, and cured itself.

The Journal's Brian Jones recalls what the city was like five years ago: "A city of plastic cups, beer cans, candy wrappers, old newspapers, bits of cellophane, sticky lollipop sticks, half-eaten French fries, old socks, hamburger wrappers, aluminum can pull-tabs, bags, bottles, straws, the discards of a consumptive and careless society. . . ."

That describes our Broadway exactly.

But Providence launched what they call "The Litter Wars," which began in 1979 "when downtown businesses were moved by civic pride to clean the sidewalks outside their front doors, a task they technically were required to perform by an often ignored and unenforced city law. . . ."

Today the Downtown Providence Improvement Assn. has 232 members, a $135,000 budget, and a full-time crew of seven employees who vacuum, sweep, wash, water and plant. The streets have 156 lidded trash cans, weighted so they won't blow over, and 17 city planters filled with 18,000 flowers.

The city's "Litter Commander," DPIA president Howard Kay, emphasizes the improvement: "It's so exhilarating (now) to walk around downtown. . . . Everybody in Rhode Island ought to make a pilgrimage. . . ."

If Providence can do it, why can't we?

Maybe something is already happening in San Francisco:

"You may be interested," writes Martin V. Taylor of Bakersfield, "in a sight I saw very early Sunday, Aug. 4. . . . Brooms and pressure hoses manned by an army of workers rendered Market and Powell spotless before the first tourist climbed onto a cable car. Possible coincidence, but maybe Herb Caen has influence in 'plush nests.' "

As for my moving the Tower Theater to 7th and Broadway from 8th and Broadway, I didn't do it--Winter and Gebhard did it, in their otherwise trustworthy "Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles."

I shouldn't have looked it up.

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