Friday, August 1, 2008

Urban Litter Forum Examines Links to Crime and Economic Development

By Jennifer DeLong

"Litter and illegally dumped materials attract crime and repel economic development in urban areas" concluded a group of more than 80 attendees at an Urban Litter Forum. They agreed that blighted areas in the nation's cities are more impacted by crime and economic decline.

The Urban Litter Forum, which convened in Hollywood, Florida, January 11-12, was sponsored by the recently established Urban Litter Partnership between The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and Keep America Beautiful (KAB). Commissioners, solid waste directors, enforcement officials, educators, and KAB staff, representing more than 20 cities, came together to address the impacts of urban blight and share solutions. This forum, the second of two conducted by the partnership, was designed to exchange information about urban blight and develop best practices for urban litter prevention programs.

On the first day of the forum, attendees participated in two roundtable discussions to explore the impacts of litter and illegal dumping in urban areas. Participants identified several impacts they had observed in their cities, including the following economic and crime-related problems:

* Litter repels economic development, investment, and location of businesses

* Litter decreases property values and increases urban decay

* Decreased tourism in certain communities due to litter and urban blight

* Decline in revenue for littered business districts

* Increasing costs for cleanup programs requires additional financial resources taken from revenues received by businesses, local governments, taxpayers, and property owners

* Related crime activities are more likely to occur in blighted areas (drug deals, prostitution, gang violence, loitering, vandalism, etc.)

* Litter & illegal dumping are often committed by those wanted for more serious crimes

* Littered areas indicate lack of concern and loss of local pride in obeying the law

Participants discussed the need for additional research to measure both the impacts of urban blight and the improvements that are made through prevention and cleanup programs. John Schert, Executive Director of the Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management at the University of Florida, discussed their research program to analyze the economic impacts of blight to businesses and municipalities. He emphasized that both social and economic indicators will be assessed carefully for accurate measurement of the impacts to urban areas. Once the real costs of urban blight and benefits of cleanup are measured, additional resources could be allocated to provide effective solutions for it.

During the two-day discussions, attendees identified components to help prevent litter and illegal dumping and establish cleaner, more livable cities. Participants emphasized that clear lines of responsibility must be established for identification, response, and clean up of litter and illegal dumps. Cooperation among city agencies, the private sector, and residents is helpful in developing a coordinated approach for prevention of urban blight.

Participants pointed out that separate approaches should be developed for litter and illegal dumping, claiming that litter is primarily driven by behavior, while illegal dumping is driven by economic costs of disposal. Education and media campaigns help prevent littering, while strong enforcement programs help decrease the occurrence of illegal dumping in urban areas.

Attendees agreed that a combination of factors contribute to successful urban litter prevention programs. These factors include establishing partnerships, setting up coordinated local sanitation services, garnering stronger enforcement of local ordinances against litter and illegal dumping, educating residents about local programs, providing rewards and incentives, and measuring the effectiveness of programs.

Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner Clarena Tolson, Keep Houston Beautiful Executive Director Robin Blut, and West Palm Beach Commissioner Jeff Koons introduced local programs to address urban blight and shared their successes in enhancing livability in their communities.

The Urban Litter Partnership includes supporting partners from the American Plastics Council, Anheuser-Busch Companies, EIA Foundation, Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management, Grocery Manufacturers of America, ITW Hi-Cone, McDonalds' Corporation, National Soft Drink Association, Philip Morris U.S.A., Polystyrene Packaging Council, Procter & Gamble, and Tenneco Packaging. The Urban Litter Partnership plans to unveil its Best Practices Guide to mayors at a National Summit scheduled for late October of this year.

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