Thin Green Line

Cesar Chavez Park used to be a landfill. If certain people had their way, it would soon look like one again. I’m referring to that small minority of park users who drop their trash on the ground. Many of them don’t even set foot in the park; they just throw it out the window of their parked car. That’s why the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way is a litter hotspot.

Walking the thin green line between a tidy park and a reborn trash heap this morning was Indie Orozco, a member of the Parks department’s gardening staff. With a picker-upper and a bucket he patrolled the circle and restored it to pristine tidiness.

People take their behavior clues from what they see around them. If people see broken windows, they’ll assume nobody is taking care of a place and they’ll take advantage. A whole theory of criminology is based on that insight. In a park, the “broken window” clue is trash on the ground. If people see trash on the ground, they’ll throw more trash on the ground, and pretty soon the park looks like the landfill it used to be.

Picking up trash is among the most important assignments that Parks staff does. Parks staff picker-uppers are the thin green line between a tidy park that makes life better, and a trashy park that makes life depressing. Keeping the park tidy is a message of love. I try to help when I can by picking up the odd throwaway here and there, and I’ve seen others do the same. But without the daily professional performance of Parks workers, the park would soon go to hell. As a park visitor I offer my thanks to Indie and all the other Parks workers who do this.

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