Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our beloved filthy streets

I was recently riding the DC metro. Easy, user-friendly, acoustically-sensible... and astonishingly clean. You can't not notice the smell that's deafiningly not there.

I was horrified.

Where are the smears, the splotches, the steamy liver-and-onion stench? Where are all the black globby splotches on the floors?

The experience got me somewhat obsessed with NYC's splotchy sidewalks. I asked around, and the answer: gum. It's all gum. Us New Yorkers are apparently chronic gum litterers.

The Times ran a story on the phenomenon a couple years back. Some highlights:
  • It takes a wad of gum 24 hours to turn from pink/green/blue to dark black.
  • Shapes differ mostly because you stretched the wad out when you got gum on your shoe.
  • Because of the composition of cement, there's really no easy way to clean it up. It requires a special solvent and some serious, back-breaking scraping. Unsurprisingly, some clever entrepreneurs have taken up the cause.
  • For decades, city officials have bemoaned our sticky streets but never really had a coherent response.
  • The problem is less pronounced in more touristed and affluent areas. Street cleaners employed by business improvement districts, such as Downtown Alliance or Times Square Alliance, pick the sticky fight. As do the Doe Fund's employees. Because sidewalks belong to property owners, and because the city has bigger fish to fry, Sanitation workers pretty much look past the blemish.

All of this apparently has DC feeling a little bit haughty -- but I'm guessing most of us would take New York, gum-warts and all.

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