Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Broad Avenue merchants focus on fighting litter

Published July 17, 2012 in the Commercial Appeal.
Guy Weaver, senior archaeologist at Weaver & Associates, an archaeological firm on Broad Avenue, multitasks on his breaks to keep the neighborhood looking nice. "I pick up trash or sweep while I'm out there," he explains. "Even though it's not my garbage, it's my responsibility as a business owner to pick it up."

Like all things on Broad Avenue, the business association has taken a grassroots approach to solving its litter issue. Weaver says he has looked at the litter with a critical eye. "It's mostly coming from elsewhere," he says. "People come here, hang out, and then leave their whiskey pints, beer bottles, cans and fast-food containers."

Tom Clifton, who is the owner of T Clifton Art Gallery, also does litter patrols. He says his trash pincher is his best friend. "With the pincher, I don't have to touch the trash," he explains. He and his Saint Bernard, Argus, walk up and down the street picking up trash almost daily. "We'll do it whenever it is needed, but the mornings in the early part of the week are busiest because of the weekend traffic."

Weaver said it would be fun to do a bona fide archaeological survey of the trash, but feels certain that most of it is brought to the area, or blown in by the wind. Pat Brown, business manager of T Clifton Art Gallery and vice president of Historic Broad Business Association, agrees. "Broad Avenue has a beautiful breeze that blows trash up and down the street. It collects beautifully along the fence line," she says, adding that she watches people pull up and dump trash out of their cars. "It's not socioeconomic either; it's across the board."

"Litter is a people problem that people can solve," explains Eldra White, executive director of Memphis City Beautiful. Litter remains a pervasive problem throughout the United States. "Memphis is not the only place with bad behavior. We live in a disposable society with more and more packaging."

"Litter also showcases people's lack of respect for their environment and other people's businesses," says Brown. Ironically, she notes increased litter is actually a sign of progress. "More crowds mean more litter. We see it increase with every new restaurant or business," she says. "We've been cautious when showing new businesses the area. We don't want them stepping over broken glass."

Maintaining Broad's cleanliness has been critical to its revitalization. "It can show success or also ruin you, so we are very focused on it," says Brown. As they started seeing litter increase, the business association went to the different restaurants and asked them to police their areas. "We told the businesses it might not be your trash, but pick it up anyway."

Most of what Clifton finds is beer bottles and cigarette packs. "If we stopped smoking as a nation, it would make my job a lot easier." He and Brown, like Weaver, believe the bottles come from cars and not the area restaurants since it is illegal to take them out of the individual buildings. Brown also sees plenty of fast-food bags from restaurants that are nowhere near Broad Avenue. "Water bottles are also a big problem, and I see at least one dirty diaper a week," she adds.

Clifton says there was a time when the litter was frustrating, but meeting with the other businesses really helped. "We have to go back every once in awhile and remind everyone because of staff changes, but everyone has been great."

Last year, when the business association worked with the Greater Mid-South JCC Foundation to install artistic bike racks along the street, they were able to also install four trash receptacles designed and fabricated by Jerry Couillard of Metalworks on Broad.

"We needed cans for people to throw their trash in, but we wondered if they'd actually get used. They have helped, and people are using them," says Brown. They were placed at four businesses — T Clifton, Three Angels Diner, Victory Bicycle Studio and Metalworks. Each business agreed to empty them and keep them clean.

Weaver does credit the success of the new food truck rodeos on Sundays for adding cups, napkins and other items to his daily haul. "At the first rodeo, our trash cans filled up in a minute. They are nice and artistic, but not big enough to accommodate the trash being produced at the rodeos." He would like to see more trash cans at the rodeos and other big events.

Clifton says he empties his trash can as needed, once or twice a week. "You know the success of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is usually measured by the amount of trash accumulated," he says

He would also like to see the city sweep the street on a more regular basis, maybe even once a week, since it is part of an entertainment district. "The main problem is that there's no shame in throwing trash in the street," Clifton says. "If we see people, we report them."

Memphis City Beautiful operates the 52-Clean (901-522-5326) Litter Hotline, which is a 24-hour hotline program that provides a means for concerned citizens to report littering motorists. (Citizens can also report littering online at memphiscitybeautiful.org.)

Callers are asked to give the license number, a brief description of the vehicle, the date, time, type of litter and location of the incident. The offending motorist will be sent a "Litter Alert" letter, a car litter bag, and a reminder that littering is against the law.

White says they receive 400 to 500 calls per year.

"Educating people might help," Clifton says. "They feel safe because they are anonymous when parked between other cars."

"We've even considered giving out our own 'tickets' the way we sometimes do for people who park in the bike lanes," adds Brown. "Our new lanes, which make the cars more exposed, might help with the anonymity and prevent people from littering."

Memphis City Beautiful, which is the local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, hosts all kinds of events, activities and programs targeted at changing Memphians' behavior. On Oct. 7, it is partnering with the Historic Broad Business Association for the 2nd edition of Memphis City Beautiful's hugely successful Trashion Show, which challenges designers to repurpose, reuse and recycle items from the city's better curbside collection bins to create unique fashion sensations.

The business association is honored and excited to be the site for this fall's Trashion Show. "What better way to help refocus trash as art!" Brown says. "It will be the epitome of the resurgence of this area. Once thought to be area of Memphis that people had discarded, artists are fueling Broad Avenue's new glory. And the efforts of City Beautiful's Trashion Show will further reflect the beneficial role artists play in helping all of us to see the value in trash, especially when it is properly disposed in a way that can be reused versus just discarded on the street."

This exhibition features the work of Memphis' top couturières of Trashion and benefits the Memphis City Beautiful Mini Grant Program, which supports local neighborhood beautification and greening initiatives. The deadline to declare participation is July 20th. For more information, visit memphiscitybeautiful.org/programs/curb-couture-trashion-show, or call Ginger Acuff

at (901) 522-1135.

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