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Louisville Mayor Promises To Address City's Trash Problem

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Wednesday that he will unveil a new city-wide cleanliness initiative this spring that he hopes will address disparities in litter problems.

In an interview Wednesday, Fischer said an assessment is already underway using city data, social media and community input to determine areas that need “concentrated help” to be more “clean and green.”

“Cleanliness sets the tone for a city,” he said. “It’s an emphasis for every part of the city to be clean.”

The announcement follows a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story that found areas plagued most by trash often lack public trash bins. A review of city data by KyCIR found that 73 percent of all trash-related complaints

reported to the city’s MetroCall 311 service last year were not within one block of a trash can. And 41 percent of those locations had no trash bin within two blocks.

Many of these areas are home to the city’s poorest residents. Some said they feel neglected by city leaders who’d rather invest resources in tourist hotspots than neighborhoods.

“They don’t care about poor people,” said Mandy Cissell.

She lives in the Taylor Berry neighborhood, where 91 percent of 340 trash-related problems reported last year were not within one block of a city trash bin, data show.

Fischer said reviewing the location of public trash bins as it relates to trash complaints “is an important data point,” but he wasn’t sure if that’s part of the process underway now.

“If it’s not being done, it will be done,” he said. “These are all good questions.”

Fischer said his administration is “looking at all the data that has to do with being clean and being green and developing ways to be cleaner and greener.”

'Cleanliness Index' measure underway

The city’s public works department has been assessing cleanliness issues since early 2016, said Pete Flood, the department’s compliance and enforcement manager.

City crews have been partnering with residents in the Shelby Park and Smoketown neighborhoods to scour the streets and alleys and come up with a “cleanliness index,” he said. The index is based, largely, on observation -- not existing data, he said.

The efforts in Shelby Park and Smoketown will serve as a pilot for Fischer’s citywide initiative, Flood said.

Crews soon will begin to implement specific initiatives in these neighborhoods in hopes of reducing trash and bettering the index, he said. Options include more trash bins in residential areas, providing residents with larger waste containers for curbside pick-up and reworking collection schedules, Flood said.

“We feel like we are onto something,” Flood said.

Currently, the city is responsible for 980 public trash bins across the city, according to data provided by city officials. A majority of the bins are clustered in downtown, near Slugger Field, around Churchill Downs and along other pedestrian thoroughfares.

But some areas have none - like a stretch of 26th Street in Russell where residents complained more than 30 times last year about trash.

In all, city officials received nearly 6,000 reports of trash last year in the Urban Services District, data shows. More than 400 were repeat reports.

Skepticism Remains About Fixes

While city officials are considering more trash cans to quell the issue, some neighborhood leaders are skeptical it’s the needed fix.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton has mixed feelings about adding more trash cans in neighborhoods -- they’re needed, she said, but are not a panacea.

She represents District 5, which includes Shawnee, Portland and parts of Russell, home to hundreds of residents’ trash complaints.

Hamilton in the past has used her limited discretionary funding to purchase trash cans for her district. She said she’d do it again, if the constituents want more trash bins -- but she thinks the Public Works department should foot the bill, not council members.

“It’s their responsibility,” she said.

Trash bins alone, won’t stop the litter, she said, so putting a trash bin on every corner isn’t necessary.

“A lot of that is a personal responsibility of people,” she said. “There’s not the mindset to throw it away.”

Councilwoman Marianne Butler, who represents District 15, which includes the Taylor Berry neighborhood, said trash cans don’t stop trash from spreading across city streets.

Butler has used her discretionary funding to purchase trash bins, she said, but they were stolen shortly after. The cans she purchased were temporary; permanent metal cans are also an option for council members.

Butler said she’s conducted regular litter pick-ups, too, only to see the trash return days later.

“I can’t tell you why, human nature is like that,” she said.

Kelly Kinahan, assistant professor of urban and public affairs at the University of Louisville, said the responsibility to keep neighborhoods clean falls on residents and local government.

Government should provide the infrastructure, like trash bins, and people should help minimize the build-up of trash in their neighborhood, she said. For instance, she said residents can organize community-wide litter pick-ups in problem areas.

“The appearance of litter and trash within their neighborhood is detrimental to the quality of life of the residents that live there,” she said. “Thus, there is a collective responsibility.”

The Next Louisville project is a collaboration between WFPL News and the Community Foundation of Louisville. For more work from the project,  click here.

Jacob Ryan can be reached at  jryan@kycir.org and (502) 814.6559.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.