Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Cleanliness, Godliness, And The Almighty Mechanical Sweeper

Taking Back Planet Earth, One Dirty Street At A Time

Back in the day, some 39 years ago, when Earth Day was fresh, new, and novel, the movement was more than a symbolic rapprochement to healing mother earth.

We truly believed that our planet was dying, and that, through mankind's benevolence -- and a whole lot of recycling, reclaiming, and reusing -- we could fix this place we call home, and make it sustainable for generations yet to come.

The hype and anticipation of Earth Day, with celebrations in the park, to clean-ups on the beach (and let's not forget the protests at nuclear power plants), was second only to that of Apollo moon missions.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions, removing litter from the side of highways (to the pleasure of that teary-eyed native American), and doing our share -- or what little we could -- actually meant something. Emotions were stirred, and we were called to action.

Time was, Think Globally, Act Locally was more than a catch phrase. It was nuance, ushering in a new era of cleaner, healthier, greener living, where our children could breathe the air, drink the water, and get from one place to the other without spewing tons of carbon monoxide into the air.

Think globally? Today, if you can simply get folks to think at all, its a major accomplishment.

As for Earth Day itself, the whole notion has become rather ho hum, inconvenient truths notwithstanding.

Earth Day, is it? So we ask, as we strap ourselves into our gas guzzling, sulphur dioxide spitting, ozone depleting machines, prepped to drink our morning joe out of a styrofoam cup, soon to be tossed, along with that McDonald's bag and Snapple bottle, out the car window.

Sure, we've exchanged an occasional incandescent bulb for that fluorescent here and there, upgraded to Energy Star dishwashers, and even pay homage to the idea that gave birth to Earth Day by designating entire communities as "green." We've seen Green Levittown. Its not altogether that green (but bless your little hearts for having a go at it).

Seriously. What have we really done, as a society and individually, in the past 39 years to reduce our carbon footprint? Driven less, mass-transited more? Converted to solar or wind power? Saved a forest by using recycled paper?

How many of us even bother to keep our own little corner of the world green? Do we broom sweep in front of our storefronts or homes? Are we using organic lawn care products rather than chemical fertilizers and pesticides?

Perhaps planet earth isn't as worthy of saving as it was nearly four decades ago. Could be that it really isn't as easy being green as we thought it would be? Or maybe the last eight years, when the melting of the ice caps was debatable and global warming was only a theory, or worse still, in the eyes of one United States Senator, a hoax, have made us tune out and turn of.

Well, it is time to get in touch with planet earth once again. On this Earth Day -- which, not coincidentally, happens to be today -- and every day, do your part to reclaim our little patch of blue, right here on heaven's green earth. Rekindle the spirit that moved the Friends of the Earth. Do it for yourself, if not for generations yet unborn.

Celebrate Earth Day locally, here on Long Island. We'll all breathe a lot easier, and Mother Earth will thank you.
- - -
Check out your town's efforts at greenification at
- - -
From the Long Island Herald newspapers:

Street Cleaning As Rite Of Passage

To the Editor:

The old joke goes something like this: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness. In New York, its next to impossible.”

The annual rite of spring, invoked by towns and villages alike, is ushered in not by the hum of the robin, but rather, by the drone of the mechanical sweeper, that iconic harbinger of the earth’s rebirth, harkening back to the day when those bristled brushes actually made contact with the debris-strewn asphalt.

Ah, the memories of childhood in the city, where streets were washed, no less swept, on a regular basis, and homeowners actually removed their cars from the roadways, even without the strict mandate of Alternate Side parking, so that the sweeping machines could clean from curb to curb.

Today’s suburbia is a distant cry from the vision of planners and street sweepers alike. Scheduled sweeping days are few and far between (once per month, from April through early October, if we’re lucky), those mechanical bulls now only sheepishly patrolling our streets, moving sand and litter from one side of the road to the other (too often, on trash collection days, having to dodge coverless receptacles and rodent-riddled garbage bags), with few homeowners bothering to take their vehicles off road, permitting at least an ode to street cleaning, if not actual progress toward environmental responsibility.

Gone are the days, or so it would seem, where common decency, rather than proscribed dictate, meant that we moved our cars for the likes of snow plows and street sweepers. We have, apparently, abandoned civility and that simple nod to quality of life, in favor of a survivalist’s every man for himself credo.

Alas, suburbia is not the wilderness, where your nearest neighbor is twenty miles down that dirt road, and your right to lay claim to that byway for your pick-up truck to stand fast against the intrusions of the outside world is inviolable.

Assuring that our streets are clean, at least nominally so, and making way for the occasional mechanical sweeper, is but a small part of the community spirit, the shared responsibility, that helps keep suburbia viable, sustainable, and livable.

Besides, if all that sand remains on our residential streets during the summer months, they may reclassify our houses as beachfront properties. And you know what that will do to your property tax!

Seth D. Bykofsky
West Hempstead, NY

The writer, a civic activist of longstanding, is a former president of the West Hempstead Civic Association, and a co-founder of The Community Alliance, a quality of life watchdog group.

No comments:

Post a Comment