Cleaning up During a Pandemic, One Alleyway at a Time
From the Nest, Issue 4
by Frances Murray and Brenda Duke
During our first pandemic lockdown in 2020, residents in the Durand neighbourhood, and across the city, gathered safely for an early Fall clean up to pick up trash in alleys and parks.
Many bags of trash were collected and volunteers were left with that happy, satisfied feeling after a job well done. Clean up day has been a great way to get to know other people who care about and live in your neighbourhood and to help keep your neighbourhood looking great.
It’s been a Durand tradition for many years. And, truth be told, it’s not even a gross job (especially with the great trash pickers provided by Beautiful Alleys!).
Sadly, though we had been advertising in earnest for weeks, we had to scuttle our plans for a cleanup effort in Durand last week.
Everyone was looking forward to joining other community members to clean up alleys and public spaces on April 17, but the roller coaster of the COVID-19 pandemic, and changing provincial regulations, meant postponing our clean up for a while (it’s been rescheduled for May 29 when we hope it might be possible).
With new and more contagious variants of the virus circulating, organizers were wary of taking any chances and nobody was sure if clean alley advocates would be stopped and questioned by authorities.
Neighbours continue to do what they can in their bubbles, and when they’re out for their walks, but a coordinated clean up is really the way to go in order to make a big impact.
And while we might have missed the chance for our annual April clean up, we recognize that this tradition has been going on for a long time and that we’ll be out there soon enough. In fact, Beautiful Alleys, who has been helping the Durand Neighbourhood Association to organize its local cleanup over the past year or so has a rich and important organizational history.
Beautiful Alleys was formed in 2012 as an alley enhancement action group through the GALA (Gibson and Lansdale Area) Community Planning Team. In 2015, it was rebranded as Beautiful Alleys and volunteers made a huge push for an Earth Day cleanup in 2016 that gathered upwards of 400 volunteers from many areas of the city. The response and the interest were massive and the event was repeated in the Fall. And that was the start of its semiannual cleanups.
Beautiful Alleys doesn’t do it alone though, it has the support of two groups from the City of Hamilton who help to coordinate and provide supplies.
Those groups are Keep Hamilton Clean and Green Committee, for supplies, and the City’s Public Works Department, for waste pickup.
Beautiful Alleys eventually expanded beyond alleys to include parks, greenspaces and even whole neighbourhoods as people became more invested in the project. Cleaning led to other initiatives like beautification and alternative pathways for cyclists and pedestrians and these efforts inspired others to start their own projects.
Brenda Duke, the strength behind Beautiful Alleys, had this to say, “Our focus now is to build the capacity of local teams. We are encouraging each neighbourhood to have a “lead” that gathers a team. At present we have nine area neighbourhoods involved plus a partnership with CN Rail. We encourage people to maintain their spaces year-round and our dream is to have a city sanctioned “Adopt-an Alley” program that recognizes the volunteers and their efforts.”
In a way, perhaps the pandemic created more awareness of the litter problem in our cities — more people are out walking in their neighbourhoods and noticing the ubiquitous waste—from discarded PPE (masks and gloves) to ever-present cigarette butts.
Between clean-up dates, it’s a good idea to talk about innovative ways we can reduce litter in our public spaces. Litter can be ugly and depressing and is bad for our soil, water, and air. It often puts a strain on our local ecosystems and the plant and animal life that share this city with all of us.
There are many reasons to work towards reducing and eliminating litter and much-needed advocacy around measures used to control it. Things like more waste bins in littler hotspots with a more frequent schedule of maintenance by city crews would likely help.
Some areas of the city are already doing innovative things. Bayfront Park, for instance, has special dog waste receptacles to keep dog waste in an underground vault until it can be collected and composted. It may be possible to expand the use of these receptacles to more city parks.
While over-packaging and plastic waste are huge global issues, reducing that litter in our public spaces can be helped along by grassroots advocacy.
You can share ideas for reducing and eliminating litter by joining your neighbourhood association. If your neighbourhood does not have an organized neighbourhood group, send an email to your City Councillor with your ideas and suggestions to reduce litter (if you’re really enthusiastic, think about starting your own neighbourhood group!).
We hope you plan to join others in your neighbourhood to help clean up a park or alley on May 29 (pandemic restrictions permitting). Check your neighbourhood’s Facebook page for meet up details or see the Beautiful Alleys group on Facebook and contact them to find out more about cleanups in your area.