Revitalization is a dirty job

Of the five major ways to foster urban revitalization;

  1. Facilitating high end real estate development,
  2. Supporting the arts and culture,
  3. Cleaning up the joint,
  4. Squashing the gangs, and
  5. Creating a reason for Trenton to be here,

Only “Cleaning up the joint” can be done inexpensively.

Visitors to Trenton often comment that the city looks “run down” and dirty. Residents agree.

Larges sections of Trenton are awash in litter; street signs are missing or turned the wrong way; and, buildings are in disrepair and dirty. However, it’s the litter that is most noticeable.

There must be some sociological reason why Trentonians like to drop chicken bones on the sidewalk and discard fast food bags in the gutter. I don’t profess to understand it and perhaps we could employ a sociologist to help us understand. Meanwhile, there are straightforward tactics we can use to lessen our litter burden.

We need a full scale frontal attack on the trash

To develop and manage this attack, we can form a small group of citizens (let’s call it Clean Trenton) to provide leadership to neighborhood associations, the city’s public works department and other organizations that might help. Schools, universities, foundations, historical societies and other volunteer organizations can play important roles.

A well organized “Clean Trenton” program will

  • Evaluate the problem areas
  • Create a wide scale program
  • Measure success
  • Repeat

To evaluate the problem, a Clean Trenton organization should seek university help.

A university public policy program will find value in its students designing an urban anti-litter campaign. Such a program will need to develop a methodology for measuring the degree of a trash problem on a per block basis and for evaluating the causes of the problem. Local high schools will want their students to be involved in helping to carry out the creative analytics involved in such an evaluation program.

The university / high school evaluation effort will tell Trentonians

  • Which blocks and neighborhoods are the cleanest
  • What are the sources of the problem
  • Where should tactical litter prevention efforts be targeted

We’ll need to create a wide scale program to clean up the city

Clean Trenton will need to involve as many citizens as possible but should center on strengthening neighborhood associations. Trenton has a large network of neighborhood associations that struggle with varying degrees of success to rally their residents to constructive action. Clean Trenton can be a new rallying cry that will only bolster community spirit.

The city’s public works department will also play an important role. Clean Trenton, with the support of the university and school research team, will be able to advise the city on changes in operations that may help stem the litter issue. Relatively inexpensive measures such as more litter baskets ($20,000) on the streets and residential trash-cans ($200,000) may be recommended.

The program will also need to engage retail and commercial businesses, landlords and state government. It will need a public relations component and outreach to build on the already good relationship between sanitation workers and the public. Other efforts to clean buildings, maintain vacant land ,and straighten out street signs might be part of the program. Grants, awards and other recognition may also be in order.

Finally, we need a goal. The evaluation and measurement effort should benchmark Trenton against other cities. There is no reason we can’t strive to have the cleanest city in America. This is a tall order but one that will speak volumes towards making Trenton an attractive place to live.

We’ll need to continuously measure our success.

A sustainable Clean Trenton program will need help in measuring the cleanliness of the city. The most likely way to institutionalize this effort is for it to become a regular part of a local school program based on the original university evaluation method.

Such an ongoing measurement program will serve to teach students about:

  • Economics & statistics
  • The scientific process
  • Sociology
  • Civic involvement

By publicizing the results of our efforts, we will create a linkage between our hard work and its impact on property values. This empirical evidence will help home buyers and businesses decide which areas of the city are worthy of new investment. Over the years it is likely that neighborhoods, streets and blocks will want to vie for the honor of cleanest and most improved.

I’m sure there are deep seated reasons that cause a person to throw a chicken bone on the sidewalk. Hopefully a large scale effort to involve citizens in cleaning the city will eventually touch that person and help them to find a wastebasket for their trash.

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One Response to “Revitalization is a dirty job”

  • The Philadelphia Streets Department actually recognizes organization in support of “clean blocks” as a core mission (see The Department actually provides tactical support to community associations that want to organize networks of block captains. Typically, a block cleanup coordinated with the Department citywide program is one of the key seasonal activities of any functional community association in Philadelphia, and there are many that meet that test. For example, here’s one I used to be affiliated with: Often there is also coordination with the “green” projects of the horticultural society (

    Your point on data gathering is important. As I’ve previously posted in other comments here, Trenton is not part of the national “national neighborhood indicators project” ( and that might help. More broadly, the major center of intellectual heft in the region — Princeton University — has never received a Community Outreach Partnership grant from HUD ( — no funds available this year) and so community engagement remains fragmented, on a project basis rather than aimed holistically at Trenton’s challenges, and is split between a center for engagement ( and one for service learning ( It would be worth approaching either or both center to discuss the ideas you have mind.

    Dan, I send you sincere condolences on the sad personal news carried in your previous post and have signed the guest book made available through the online Trenton Times.

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