Eyes on the Street: Keeping Trash Off the Sidewalks in Buenos Aires

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Trash on the street in Buenos Aires …

Clarence Eckerson has been following our #sidewalkhogs competition while in South America. He sends this photo from Buenos Aires.

“Not only have I seen very few cars parked on sidewalks,” writes Clarence, “there are hundreds of spaces in the city where trash pick up is located in the street in what were once parking spaces.”

This is a logical alternative to the piles of garbage that obstruct and stink up city sidewalks, attracting vermin and even endangering pedestrians. How nice it would be if NYC, where so many people can barely conceive of using street space for anything other than automobile storage, could get behind it.

Maybe Clarence can find out if these bins require community board approval.

… and NYC. Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr. and ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/ascentstage/8811078813##John Tolva/Flickr##
… and NYC. Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr. and ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/ascentstage/8811078813##John Tolva/Flickr##
  • Rolando Peñate

    Barcelona does the same thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if street-situated dumpsters were common outside the United States.

  • Fool

    But think of the Sanitation Jobs!

  • LN

    These little bins are also at designated spots the ends of streets in Istanbul. Everyone on the block fills them up with trash. Every night a little truck comes, picks them up with a winch and dumps the trash into their trucks. The drivers maneuver everything from inside the truck with amazing skill.

  • Reader

    This would be especially helpful in winter, when piles of garbage were covered with snow and made the sidewalks even more impassable than they already were. It’s probably much easier to shovel one of these out than fifteen garbage bags.

  • Jeff

    It’s pretty sad that pedestrians (i.e. human beings) are expected to share space with trash, but space used to store autos is so sacred that we would never dream of tainting it like this.

  • jamesbeaz

    Folks, the kind of filthy “pile cheap garbage bags on the sidewalk” system that is common in NYC — and, actually, many other American cities — is NOT common anywhere else in the rich or middle-income world that I have traveled. Not in London, not in Buenos Aires, not in Santiago, not in Rio de Janeiro, not in Sao Paulo, not in Naples, not in Rome, not in Madrid, not in Barcelona, not in Berlin. It’s simply another example of Americans not really caring much about respecting the urban environment. It’s unhygienic and dangerous — insofar as rats and mice spread disease. I don’t understand why NYC doesn’t abandon this practice immediately. (Although DC’s practice of using individual garbage cans is only a tiny bit better.)

  • Ari_FS

    Brilliant.

    The sidewalk near my apartment is especially narrow, perhaps 5-7 feet. It is effectively reduced to 3-5 feet on trash nights. Since the street is mainly medium-sized buildings, it wouldn’t take more than a handful of these (one for each building) to outfit the whole block face.

    I bet if an intrepid individual or block association got the necessary buy-in from the (non-car-owning) majority on a block, DOT/DSNY would create the necessary regulations for this type of thing arrangement.

    Yes, it would require CB approval.

  • Joe R.

    Some people in the city think Citibike racks are a perfect place to pile garbage:

    http://nypost.com/2013/06/04/angry-tenants-trash-citi-bike-racks-literally/

  • smell bacon?

    Using large bins that everyone has to deposit their own trash in is the de-facto standard everyplace else in first world countries I’ve visited. Only in third world countries have I ever seen ‘bags on the street’ used as the principle means of garbage disposal. I can tell you as someone who has spent a significant part of my adult life moving other people’s garbage from the basement to the sidewalk that this works on so many levels, but for most people the problems it solves aren’t worth the problems it creates. It doesn’t just cut down on the problem of impassable sidewalks in wintertime…it would also

    – significantly reduce the risks of fires caused by piles of bagged trash, especially those massive piles of paper and cardboard (which are usually caused by poorly tossed cigarettes)
    -cut down on the congestion caused by garbage trucks stopping at every building to collect piles of bags (and holding up traffic that can’t pass on narrow streets)
    -reduce the amount of trash now stored in multiple dwelling basements that inevitably create vermin problems within the buildings
    -make everyone slightly more aware of the amount of detritus they themselves actually generate since individuals would actually have to take out their own trash rather than throw it down a chute or put it outside their apartment door and forget about it.

    …that last reason is the reason it is quite unlikely to ever be accepted here. Once people think about what it will mean for them they won’t want to be responsible for their own garbage, let alone forfeit a few parking spaces.

  • Brad Aaron

    I have never paid attention to how cities outside the U.S. handle their trash. Probably because it wasn’t piled up everywhere.

  • Joe R.

    As much as I love NYC and would probably never live anywhere else, even I’m forced to admit that many things about this city are “third world”. That includes not only our system of waste disposal, but also the abysmal condition of much of our essential infrastructure. I wonder if any other first world city the size of New York has vermin problems of the magnitude we do? NYC always takes top honors for the quantity/size of our rats and roaches. That’s a distinction I wish we didn’t have.

  • This is common practice in Israel. They even have very large recycling “cages” on many blocks. It’s quite convenient in walkable areas. (They have to be cages due to security concerns, but neighborhoods do what they can to make them attractive.)

    Some might complain that these things are ugly, but they’re no less ugly than overflowing garbage cans or piles of plastic bags that get ripped or chewed by vermin. And they’re certainly no uglier than the cars or graffiti-covered vans that line some NYC blocks.

    NYC is way behind the times on using street space for the common good.

  • Matthias

    Yes YES YES–I’ve been saying this for years! Real Cities don’t pile garbage in heaps like a mini-landfill in front of each building. It degrades the sidewalk environment tremendously (not just the piles but stains from trash juice and garbage cans as a centerpiece in front of every building). Sanitation workers have to perform the inhumane task of dragging thousands of dripping bags to the truck. Is this even being considered as part of PlaNYC?

  • jamesbeaz

    Since we don’t care about anything but war and terrorism in the USA (snark, but let me have my say…), I would also add that massive piles of trash everywhere provide a great opportunity for terrorism versus controlled, regularly-emptied (perhaps locked at certain hours?) bins.

  • jamesbeaz

    Funny, I’ve noticed the orderliness of other cities. 🙂 Small things matter so much — like not using poured concrete sidewalks and keeping all the rubbish in a tidy place. Also, European cities have recycling bins on most sidewalks, whereas in NY, most bins are trash only.

  • AnoNYC

    This should have been done yesterday. Why is this not in PlaNYC? How can we generate some buzz around this?

  • Jesse

    Buenos Aires also likes to put their garbage bins in bike lanes FWIW.

    http://bubblear.com/5-things-you-find-in-a-bike-lane-that-arent-bicycles/

  • The Bub

    If we did implement this, then sadly we’d miss all that horrible stench every day on NYC streets. Sad. Okay, not really.

  • Paul

    Well this is how they do it in Amsterdam:

  • Tyler

    I was going to make a comment like “Fool” (above/below?)… Individual bags of garbage equals sanitation dept jobs. Union jobs. Back-breaking, probably retire early on disability jobs, but well-paid union jobs. This is cynical, but why do most other cities of any size have things like standardized receptacles and the, now standard, garbage trucks with little cranes/lifters on them? You need a smaller fleet and fewer garbage men. Again, it’s cynical, but I truly believe that a major contributing factor to our mountains of nasty oozing on the sidewalks is myopic labor “concerns.”

  • I see no reason why building staff can’t regularly move garbage from the basement at the bottom of a chute to a receptacle on the street. That last reason is truly not necessary.

  • WOW! We NEED that in NYC! I have never seen anything like that, that looks so neat and efficient.

  • If the system is phased in one neighborhood at a time over a long enough period, there’s no reason the reduced workforce can’t be handled entirely via not replacing retiring workers.

  • Reader

    Except some of these countries have policies that employ large numbers of people for jobs that could probably be done by a few workers, so there’s probably no difference between US unions and European “socialism.”

    I think it’s more a general American exceptionalism that thinks the way things are are the way things should be. The status quo is hard to change.

  • Tyler

    That’s persuasive. We all already know from reactions to transportation proposals that just because it works in countless cities across the globe, it’s sure to be a failure in NYC. Pedestrian area, streetcars, bus rapid transit, bicycle infrastructure… all are *clearly* not compatible with the oh-so-special City of New York.

    That said, better garbage collection techniques doesn’t have to mean any reduction in the workforce. They could simply do *other* things that many other so-called ‘world-class’ cities do… litter collection, etc. Or maybe even ‘vacuuming’ the sewer drains *before* businesses and homes are flooded….

  • lop

    All over the country garbage trucks have a crew size of one. In NYC two minimum. Union rules. NYC exceptionalism maybe, not american.

    Have the extra dsny guys clean up sidewalks and parks. No job losses. Just a cleaner more efficient city.

  • smell bacon?

    Moving trash has a cost, somebody has to bear it.

    Yes, right now building staff typically have to move trash from the cellar, basement or back alley to the front of the building. If they also had to move it to a receptacle half or even a quarter of a block away that would add considerable time, especially if the building doesn’t have the facility to store material handling equipment like wheeled bins. That cost will have to be borne by the residents.

    The public on street receptacles I’ve seen abroad, and everything mentioned here all seem to rely on individuals to carry their own trash, and in so doing prod them to think about how much they have to carry…which is a secondary but still laudable goal.

    Whether they have to carry their own trash or pay for a service that they already get ‘free’ (courtesy of the sanitation department) I don’t think most people care enough to actually go through with this when they are presented with the changes they will have to accomodate.

    Interestingly, as it stands truly large buildings that have the space to store large tipping bins can and do use them (look at large NYCHA complexes for example).

  • smell bacon?

    Go to any large public housing complex in the city and you will indeed see something just like it.

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