Councilman Johnson hosts inaugural Clean and Green Advisory Board meeting

Residents voiced concerns about an array of sanitation issues.

During the kickoff Clean and Green Advisory Board meeting, South Philly residents voiced concerns to Councilman Kenyatta Johnson regarding illegal dumping, litter and other sanitation issues throughout the second councilmanic district. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Dozens of South Philly residents rallied at Bryant Baptist Church in Point Breeze this week for the kickoff meeting of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s new Clean and Green Advisory Board.

Focusing on the second councilmanic district, Johnson recently created the coalition, which also hosted an inaugural meeting in Southwest Philly the week prior, in response to significant volumes of concerns expressed by his constituents regarding sanitation and greenery in South Philly.

“This is an opportunity for me to come together with members of the community and come up with a community-driven process to come up with strategies and solutions to address the issue of clean and green neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “And, so, this is the opportunity to get some recommendations on how we can best address the issues.”

For the councilman, the catalyst behind this team, which will meet on a quarterly basis, sparked in early August when neighbors gathered on 21st and Reed streets for Johnson’s “On Your Block” Quality of Life meeting, where recurring concerns surfaced surrounding litter, parking, wildlife and the excessive amount of illegal dumping in local lots and alleyways.

Ideally, this first meeting was intended for residents to recognize immediate issues and foster possible fixes that Johnson can later institute either through short-term tasks, such as calling city agencies, as well as long-term goals, including drafting legislation.

“(Tonight’s meeting) is basically to organize the community and try to get everybody on board with what we’re trying to do to keep the areas clean, clean water, the natural greenery of the city, etc,” said resident and block captain Lorraine J. Yarborough. “So, you have to clean up first before you can beautify what’s going on in the city.”

Ranging from raccoon sightings to recycling bins, residents broke into three groups, sharing their recent encounters regarding the lack of urban cleanliness throughout the second district.

While several concepts came up in conversations, the bulk of discussions boiled down to the illegal and often virulent deposits of trash in empty lots, alleyways and the streets.

This comprised a spectrum of insalubrious activity, including dumping used mattresses without covers, unswept dog waste, unswept leaves, overgrown trees and weeds, runoff debris from from trash trucks, overflowing garbage bags plopped at public trash cans, food intentionally left out as animal feed and the improper delivery of fliers, leaflets and newspapers.

“Everything is extremely nice in the touristy areas,” said South Philly resident Melanie Weiser. “But, once you get out of the touristy areas, there’s no attention to detail.”

The vast majority of meeting attendees attribute these ongoing concerns, which some say exacerbated in light of recent mass development in the region, to the lack of accountability held against not only wrongdoing neighbors but city departments in general.

For instance, Johnson explained that, currently, there is no designated city department to clear and clean alleyways, as, according to city policy, homeowners technically possess the plots behind their houses up to the adjacent properties.

“Obviously, the city agencies have a responsibility, and we’re going to make sure they’re held accountable in addressing the issues and concerns regarding clean and green neighborhoods,” he said. “But, also, as a public servant and a legislator, I’ve learned that some of the best ideas come from the people.”

Throughout the evening, “the people” brainstormed several solutions, which, at their essences, entailed accountability, enforcement and education.

Among the suggestions were stricter crackdown on fines, the implementation of plastic bag taxes, mandatory street sweepings, lids on recycling bins, additional lighting at known illegal dump sites, laws against soliciting leaflets, a city-run program to provide trash cans for residents and the installation of more street signage, including signs in more than one language to cater to immigrant populations.

“I think everybody has ideas. A lot of them are based upon best practices from other cities and what has worked in other cities,” said Stephanie Hasson, secretary of the West Passyunk Neighbors Association and committeeperson of the first division of the 48th Ward. “So, I think it’s great that we have a diverse group of people here from Philadelphia and also transplants from outside of Philadelphia, because we need to have that knowledge bank of what works elsewhere.”

Attendees also encouraged Johnson to consider using some avenue to simply communicate the “do’s and don’ts” of dumping to South Philly residents — whether it’d be through fliers, a televised PSA or crowdsourcing technology like Philacycle.

Johnson says at the next meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, he intends to invite city agents and other social organizations that specifically deal with cleaning and greening and neighborhoods.

“If you make something available for everyone to get involved, you will, number one, incentivize them to do something,” Jim Blanchet, committeeperson of the second division of the 36th Ward, told the crowd. “And, number two, you will snap them out of apathy and they’ll be available to engage in other programs. … You can’t get people to address all of our big problems until you engage them to start to be a part of the conversation.”