Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Some Concrete Complaints


Commentary. All right, all right, a complaint!

A neighbor of Wesleyan University sent along several photos to illustrate a complaint.

When Wesleyan clears sidewalks during and after snowstorms, it uses small snowplows attached to small groundkeeping vehicles. These vehicles are operated, largely, by the landscaping company which cares for Wesleyan's grounds - Stonehedge.

Inevitably, the plow blades on these vehicles are wider than most sidewalks on and off campus. The result, as shown in the photos, are muddy ruts cut into the lawn on both sides of the concrete slabs. These ruts can be seen everywhere around campus until the grass begins to grow later in the spring, and in places where re-seeding does not take place, the ruts remain year round. In isolated cases, the plows have torn into roots of trees, and in some cases, weakening trees already damaged by overhead wire crews.

This methodology of plowing, instead of shoveling or snowblowing, is likely cheaper and quicker. Unfortunately the use of these plows has lead the university to replace nearly all bluestone slate sidewalks because they make plowing impossible, and the slate is destroyed if plows are used. The plows also damage sidewalks, driveway curbing and ornamental stonework on walks.

One suggestion is to return to shoveling, making it an activity of students who can use the work as credit against tuition and fees.

In a related complaint, my own, while there are ugly sidewalk ruts on my block, what's more offensive is garbage containers left on the curb all week long by residents of Wesleyan houses. When we complain, university officials tell us the garbage containers are the responsibility of residents. Unfortunately, if the residents aren't responsible, the garbage cans never get hauled off the street. This doesn't just happen when students are on break. It's a problem anytime school is in session and students are in those houses.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

The sidewalk issue is a challenge for all communities that clear sidewalks. The student volunteers are a good idea but extremely unrealistic if you consider the during and post storm liabilities. Maintenance budgets are so underfunded, only equipment that can be operated by ONE and plows miles of sidewalk in a short amount of time makes the operation cost effective. It’s a fact of life. The labors are laid off before the teachers and administrators. Yet we complain when the work is below their standards. The change is making the sidewalks 12" wider. That should accommodate most sensible equipment. But wider sidewalks mean more money. Then less staff to maintain them. You can’t have it both ways.
The city must have enforceable litter ordinances on the books. Ticket the landlords then ticket them again and again. Keep ticketing, first the city will benefit with the increased revenues and them the city will benefit from cleaner neighborhoods. It a quality of life issue that is despicable, and our elected official and paid professionals allow to exists.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Wesleyan simply use narrower plows? And mark the sidewalk edges with flags or something? The campus and surrounding neighborhood looks like a war zone, like a series of tanks drove through.

Or have the students do it as part of their status in residence. Other schools do this. Change the public access policy to "enter the campus at your own risk". Make all faculty and staff and students sign waivers.

On garbage: definitely, penalize the slobs. The neighborhood looks like ***t.

Fed Up and Disgusted

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why many of the items on this blog have become a Wesleyan vs Middletown issue...

At least the sidewalks are plowed and it is done very quickly. Many of the sidewalks in other parts of the town are never plowed or shoveled. Also when we have a parking ban many of our town residents ignore the ban and remain on the streets. It would be interesting to find out if the town even bothers to fine the culprits - it would be a nice way to pump up our failing budget.
Why don't we worry about the residents that ignore our laws instead of being so picky about those that follow them. Besides, the landscaping crew is responsible for fixing all of the sod areas that were damaged each season.

As for the garbage cans - it is quite funny that this seem to be an issue in the central part of the town - those of us in Westfield and South Farms that have to PAY to have our garbage collected rarely find that our neighbors leave their trash cans out by the curb.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

It's all a matter of perspective, for certain.

Wesleyan's grounds are lovely, by and large, but their groundskeeping vendor is not always careful, and the ruined sod is not always repaired.

As for the garbage can problem, it is a city problem which the city seems not to have the will, the time, or the personnel to enforce. Wesleyan kicks students out of off campus housing if they have repeated noise complaints. Maybe the bar should be raised and extended to other kinds of complaints.

Finally, you may notice that your mill rate in Westfield and South Park is significantly lower than that in the central part of town. It reflects costs of FD, and other things, like garbage pickup. In other words, we all pay for garbage pickup.

Jen Alexander said...

To Anonymous @ 7:43 am:

Thanks for speaking up.

I wanted to invite you to write for the EYE -- we love to have readers (especially those who make thoughtful comments), but we also need more writers. If you live in "Westfield or South Farms", it would be great to have more of those perspectives here. What's living in Middletown like for you? Tell us all!

Yours,

-Jen Alexander

Vijay Pinch said...

Actually (responding to anonymous 7:43) I'd say only a tiny proportion of stories and comments on the Eye are about Wesleyan versus Middletown.

As for the ploughing issue, as a High Street homeowner I have to say I'm of two minds. I wouldn't mind having my sidewalk ploughed except for the fact that the operators inevitably rip up my turf. Sometimes they fix it, sometimes they don't. I don't like having to ask, repeatedly, that they not plough -- or to ask that they repair the inevitable damage after they do plough. I like my friends in Buildings and Grounds, and I'm sure they have better things to do than respond to my cranky emails and calls. In a perfect world, smaller ploughs would seem to be the answer. (Though I have to confess I like the idea about the students doing the work.) Anyway, why spend tens of thousands redoing all the sidewalks?

As for the garbage, I agree with anonymous 8:31 and 8:57 on 11 March: the city should ticket the landlords that don't deal with their trash *and* trash bins properly. If Wesleyan houses get ticketed, then the fine can be passed along to the residents of the houses who are, in the end, the ones that need to learn what it means to live in a community.

Jennifer Saines said...

For your information, anonymous at 7:43: we in the downtown do pay for sanitation. We receive two bills per year for once a week pick up of one 90 gallon container.

Anonymous said...

"As for the garbage cans - it is quite funny that this seem to be an issue in the central part of the town - those of us in Westfield and South Farms that have to PAY to have our garbage collected rarely find that our neighbors leave their trash cans out by the curb."

Downtown residents PAY too. We get bills every 6 months from the City, it is a myth we are getting a so-called free ride.

madamnirvana

Anonymous said...

To all recent postings: My blog is the first one posted. I try to put a name but for some reason my blog is not posted???? Maybe someone doesn’t like my name.
It not that simple to just buy a smaller plow. The smaller the plow means the smaller the power supply to push the plow, which means a machine that in not capable of doing the job. It really is that simple. Look at homeowner snow blower at Home Depot vs the ones at Mid State. There really is a justifiable reason why the cost difference is in the $1000’s. Their bigger, stronger, last longer and are design to be fast and throw massive amounts of snow. Sod/turf is no match against a steel plow. You don’t see the problem in the heart of the winter because the turf is frozen and the plow will not rip it up. The damage seen everywhere is a result of last week’s storm. The turf was soft and was an easy target. Take it from me I cringe when there is a late fal or early spring snow fall. Turf Damage is bound to happen to the very best operators. Please understand the work before we insist on a better way. I would also add turf damage is just not at Wesleyan issue, it all over the community, all over the state.
Community Service to clear snow??? To use Wesleyan as an example (not to pick on). They have miles of sidewalk. Signing waivers will not solve anything. I have yet to see an Iron Clad waiver holding something non-liable. You would need hundreds of volunteers to exert non-stop intensive labor for dozens of hours if not days to complete. Recall how you feel after shoveling your own driveway that at best is 1000 sq.ft. The sidewalks are 3’ x miles, working in the worst conditions. It a nice thought but really unrealistic. Not to mention the work load the local hospital would be under with work comp. claims. Plows and turf repair will always be cheaper in the end.
I live in South Farms, I pay a private vendor to haul away my trash and recyclables. If my vendor left my trash in a less then professional manner (as see in the photo), I’d have a new vendor. When I pick up my trash cans, I also take the time to make sure no linger trash is left behind. I also remove my cans from the curb until next week. My point: weather you pay a private service or pay an extra tax the picture as posted should not be a common theme in the city’s trash removal district. Someone is just not doing their job. It comes down to quality of life and level of expectations. Westfield and South Farm have both.

Anonymous said...

I have complained to both Wesleyan and Middletown over the years about the trash cans being left out. Only a small fraction of Wesleyan students are the violators. Witness the 4, or is it 5 cans left out at Page and Warner on a permanent basis week after week for at least the last 3 years. Other towns have specific ordinances about trash cans being removed from the street. I was told Middletown does not have one. I think it is time to create an ordinance in the village and downtown districts, if not the entire city. The problem was not so bad when you owned your own trash cans. With the automatic system the problem has become much worse. I would ask the city council who live elsewhere in the city to drive through the village district on any Sunday morning to see just how many big brown cans are being left out on the sidewalks/curbs in any given week. It is about time this problem is addressed. May I suggest that until the city does something to correct and eliminate this problem that we call and email the Mayor's office every Monday morning with the addresses, and photos if you have them, of those homes and business, whose cans on the street Sunday mornings. Who knows how to bring a request for a new ordinance to the city? This is a quality of life issue, and a health issue. If we want a walkable, enjoyable community atmosphere in the Village, and Downtown Districts getting the trash cans off the street will help a lot.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

I've asked and asked the city hall to create a regulation - even sent them a copy of Meriden's regulation, which would work nicely if we just substituted Middletown for Meriden. No luck. But it still comes down to enforcement. With the exception of Wesleyan, I had some luck in my neighborhood with a method that embarrassed the scofflaws. I'm afraid if I told you how I did it, I'd have to kill you.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

And for Anonymous 2:51, when the slate was down on Pearl Street, the groundskeepers were forced to use snowblowers, and there was little damage done. Maybe it's time we walked backwards to a moment when we used rakes instead of (#@*^&@!)leaf blowers, when we trimmed with chain saws and not hand saws, when garbage was picked up on the curb, and not banged into a truck from a metal dumpster at 5 a.m., when we walked behind lawn mowers and didn't ride them at high speed, when sirens weren't electronic and at a decibel level to shatter bone, when ever truck didn't go "beep-beep-beep" in reverse. Call me a luddite, but I think we all might be better off figuring out how to live with less power tools. And in this economy, it would put more people to work.

Vijay Pinch said...

Dear anonymous 2:51 on 11 March: Students doing grounds work 'unrealistic'? Sort of reminds me of the administrator who responded to every suggestion anyone made with, 'I just don't think it's feasible.'

There are about 2700 full-time undergraduates at Wesleyan. If in any given semester 1/8th of them were required to dedicate, say, 6 hours a week to landscaping and groundskeeping work as part of their 'general education' requirement, then we'd have 337.5 students X 6 hours per week = 2025 hours of labor. Per week. Think of how lovely the campus would be. Think of how much the students would learn about plantings and tree care. And think of how much money Wesleyan could save, which could be applied toward the commensurate reduction of tuition. Yes, the students might have to get up early in the morning now and then to shovel (or they could just go to bed later, since most don't seem to retire till about 2 or 3 a.m.), but waking up early never killed anyone.

It's not as if this kind of thing hasn't been tried elsewhere. See Berea College:
http://www.berea.edu/laborprogram/about.asp

This was successful enough to attract the attention of the NYTimes a year ago:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/education/21endowments.html

Of course, Berea actually charges *no* tuition (it has, or had when the Times did the story, a $1.1 billion endowment), only admits low-income students, and pays them for their work, all while stressing the dignity of labor. And all the kids contribute 10 hours per week all 8 semesters, and the variety of labor there goes beyond groundskeeping. But the basic idea is the same.

I'd be curious to hear what Wesleyan students think of this idea. I'd also love to know what the groundskeeping budget is.

And yes, sad to say, Westfield and South Farms are cleaner and tidier than the downtown neighborhoods. (And I'm sure the grass is greener out there too.) All the more reason for those of us in the garbage-strewn, turf-torn, street-sand clogged downtown neighborhoods to speak up. Which is really what this is all about. If the only way to get people to deal with their garbage properly is for the city to ticket them, so be it. And if the physics of sidewalk snow ploughing is such that the turf is doomed -- regardless of the width of the sidewalks -- then maybe sidewalk snow ploughs should be abandoned.

(And I agree with Ed's point about leaf blowers. They should be banned.)

fishmuscle (Stephen H. Devoto) said...

Listen, you Anglophilic Urbanista:
It may be cliff biting, nail hanging and "ploughing" where you grew up, but dammit, in the new world it is "plowing", OK?

Vijay Pinch said...

Dear Fishmussel:

You say plow, I say plough.
You say draft, I say draught.*
Plow, plough, draft, draught.
Let's call the whole thing ough.

*as in draught-horse, of the sort that pulls a...plough

Anonymous said...

The Middletown Eye is not even a year old and already it's regressed to trivial rants. Lawn edging damage and trash cans and trash, while agreeably an eyesore to many of us, are invisible to others. Without debating right or wrong, it's a fact that there are people who forget what their mother's taught them or they were never taught.

What my mother taught me is to "Stop complaining and do something about it." So I do. Periodically, I walk my neighborhood with a couple trash bags and a pair of heavy gloves and pick up the trash.

I'm wondering if the person who took the picture of the trash on the street then picked it up or just left it there. I think there are more pressing issues facing our city that deserve our energies.

Barrie said...

Isn't trash a great subject? And the ravages of plowing, well, you should see the "sod" around my place!

A problem I have with trash, is that my family, now down to two adults and one cat, does not generate enough to bother dragging the mammoth, almost empty, container up the driveway once a week. Or even every other week for the "single-stream" recycle container. But I must pay for weekly/biweekly services just the same. What a waste! I recall that in rural areas of Italy, there were centralized group bins for trash and recycle, so that a giant truck was not stopping to tip one tiny bag of trash into its maw, wasting time, money and polluting the air. Why is this not possible here in America?

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

To anonymous 12:45, I confess to taking the picture, and leaving the trash where it was found. I do pick up more than my fair share of blowing trash in the neighborhood, but there are certain rancid, soggy bits I refuse to handle. Still, it is a handsome depiction, isn't it? (Though you've made me ask the question: If I saw a student drowning, and took a picture but did nothing to save the student would I make any less money selling the photo to Getty Images?)

Anyway, I have my own five-year old kids to pick up after, and refuse to do it for college students who should know better, and for a university which employs people to do so on campus, but not at Wesleyan-owned houses a block away.

As for regression to trivial rants you've obviously missed our reporting on town meetings. We've been reporting trivial rants since this newsblog began.

Besides, this post has generated 18 comments so far, so I guess trivial rants are the way to go.

And, BTW, ranting is much more tolerable when it's not anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has their limits. For Ed it is soggy and rancid. For me and my neighbors in the country it's condoms and human excrement w/ or without suspiciously brown tissue paper. But I must agree with anon 12:45. Maybe you can not be expected to pick up all of the trash on the street all of the time, but every time you pick up any at all is better than simply anguishing over its presence and not contributing to its reduction.

Anonymous said...

And now it's obvious why many posters prefer to remain anonymous. Make a point that differs from Ed McKeon and be prepared to be attacked. For your information, I have been reading ALL the posts here since I came across this blog last August I believe. I find it hugely informative for the most part as there's lots of informaton about Middletown that's not reported any where else. I think it serves a critical need. That's why I find it annoying when it's used as a bully pulpit for trivial problems. But don't worry, I won't be making any more comments anonymous or otherwise. I've gotten the message loud and clear.

Jennifer Saines said...

To Barrie,

I agree that the new mammoth garbage cans, which we as a family of four also cannot even begin to fill on a weekly basis, seem wasteful. Many towns require residents to bring their trash to the dump on their own. We are a mid-size city so this may not be practical in the short term. However, taking responsibility for one's own garbage would eventually lead to better and less wasteful packaging practices, as consumers would over time steer away from wasteful packaging as well as products that are cheaply designed and manufactured.


To anonymous @12:45,

I also do as my mother taught me, and pick up after myself, and expect others to do so as well. And while torn up sod, garbage and garbage cans may be invisible to some (especially from behind the wheel of a car), they are far from invisible to the pedestrian who walks to work and to shop and to local entertainment venues through the downtown neighborhoods.

Like Ed(see above @ 5:27) I believe that certain tasks are better done with less mechanization, in part because physical activity fosters healthier, livable communities.

Anonymous said...

To 12:45: My mother taught me not to look a gift horse in the mouth. So thanks for cleaning up the neighborhood! Next time you're on Loveland, would you mind clearing the sidewalk in front of the house just west of the Stilman School Apartments? The garbage is completely blocking the sidewalk, forcing us to take our chances on the street. And while you're at it, 146 High has piles of garbage by the bins next to the house. Not sure why, but the residents there decided not to put the bags in the bins. Rodent heaven! Oh, also, the DKE house is a mess. Cups and toilet paper and "whatnot". If you can manage it, that would be great.

Thanks again!

Vijay Pinch said...

In response to 12:45 and 5:08 and possibly others, if trash and disfigured landscaping were trivial matters, why have they generated so much commentary? (So much so that we risk setting a new record here, eclipsing the 25 comments generated by a brilliant opinion piece on 10 January [yes, I wrote it; http://middletowneyenews.blogspot.com/2009/01/melissa-pionzo-writes-blog-on-issues-in.html, in case anyone would like to raise the 'comments' record bar].)

In fact, some people even feel garbage is so important that they actually pick it up and dispose of it on behalf of their neighbors. Clearly this is not a trivial issue.

One payoff of the 'bully pulpit' approach that 5:08 decries is that some good ideas are being aired -- for example the Italian example of a central bin in a neighborhood for those households who generate very small amounts of garbage (of course, deciding where to locate said bin could generate an entirely new level of trash-talking). (Another approach would be to simply charge us for the amount of garbage we generate -- 'tax the trash, not the cash', as Rob Dickson, candidate for mayor of Albuquerque puts it. See http://abqgreat.com/?page_id=13 [thanks Catherine Johnson for passing this along].) And I was certainly interested to learn about the physics of sidewalk snow-ploughing, not to mention the knee-jerk animus for correct English spelling. I just hope that city officials and Wesleyan administrators are listening in, and perhaps thinking about making adjustments to the way they operate. (I await the memo that announces that henceforth all official memos are to utilize American standard spelling.) There are money-saving and money-making opportunities here, all with the potential for a cleaner, greener neighborhood and campus. A win win win situation.

By the way, the mess on Loveland was cleaned up! So either 12:45 works fast, or shining a light on a problem actually does sometimes produce results. Maybe 'trivial rants' aren't so pointless after all. Kudos to whomever was responsible for clearing the garbage off the sidewalk.

I'm sorry we won't be getting more comments from 5:08. But faced with the choice between offending his/her sensibilities and the chance to air obvious neighborhood concerns, I'll opt for the latter every time.

Anonymous said...

Vijay: It is very feasible to organize an annual grounds keeping work force for not just college campuses but why not that extend to town parks and school yards. I stand by my comment that it is unrealistic to the subject matter of snow removal sidewalks. It would take more then 6 hours and 100’s of student worker to clear the miles of side walk with shovels (each storm). Society demands clear roads and sidewalks ASAP after the last snow flake falls. Our liberal lawsuit happy courts support that. We demand it by they way we all clog the roads and expect a snow free walk to our destination. Maintenance budget only support minimum staff levels witch force the purchase of capital equipment that moves snow quick, productive, in an efficient cost effective manner. That is reality, unless we all collectively take a step backward in time nothing will change. I do agree it would put many people to work in a current time of need (however the snow may be over this season), but can you tell me a organization government or private not cutting a work force. Guess which dept is reduced first……maintenance support staff…..or its outsourced as Wesleyan did.

Trash is a direct reflection the quality of neighborhoods and not a useless rant. I would argue a very worth while subject. Improve a Town’s quality of life and you will improve the attractiveness of the town which brings in the right economic development, which support the grand list, which controls our property taxes, which make our town a preferred community. We all win. It does cost a dime to police yourself and your trash, nor does it cost a dime to expect the employees task with trash removal to do their jobs in a caring manner, nor will it increase cost to enforce town codes (doesn’t the town employee code enforcement officers).

These blogs are very worth while as long as we respect that we all have a different view point.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

I'm amazed at Vijay's ability to identify a hot topic. Thanks Vijay.

I do apologize to anyone who feels they were unfairly attacked, but "attack" is a two-way street.

In fact, I was lectured about taking a picture and not picking up trash.

I was also taken to task for posting trivial news.

In fact, I thought I was being funny, but interpretation of humor is subjective, and I learned long ago that not everything I intend as funny is necessarily taken that way.

Unfortunately the veil of anonymity brings out the worst in me. I don't believe in anonymity unless it is protecting the anonymous from some serious personal harm.

My own experience, unfortunately, is that I am far more polite to non-anonymous posts. If I knew who you were 12:45 it's likely that my own commentary would drip less heavily with sarcasm. Anonymity on this blog is tolerated, but I find it plenty irritating. In fact, many anonymous comments are rejected because they are simply mean, and yet, they would be published if a name was attached. With a name, they likely would not be as mean.

Finally, while I do a lot of the work on this blog, I am neither the final arbiter, nor forbidden from replying to comments.

As Vijay said, this issue has obviously touched a nerve. It's the little quality-of-life issues that make a community livable, and Wesleyan is a valued and important part of the community, but they need to pull their weight.

As a footnote, my tiny front yard, on this typical Saturday morning is littered with two Bud Light cans, a Lays potato chip bag, a cigarette butt and a tissue. Wesleyan is on break, so it's not likely student detritus, but gifts from my neighbors. I will pick up all the garbage, but not happily.

Anonymous said...

I would very much would like to put a name on my post, but choose when Name/URL my post is lost on cybor space. when I choose Anonymous it is posted. I'm sure its something I'm doing wrong I just don't know what that is.

Barrie said...

Since January, when I started keeping track, I have redeemed 20.60 worth of containers, picked up daily on a 2.5 mile stretch of rural roads out here in Maromas. I have given up theorizing about the motives of the "culprits" or cursing the "perpetrators". Now I thank these "just don't know any better" folks for their contributions to Container Redemptions to Advocates for a Maromas Plan (CRAMP)! Previously, I used the picked-up can funds to buy a couple of modestly priced bottles of wine or a couple of six packs of good beer, but this CRAMP fund is definitely more soul satisfying. Just the other day, when a few cans were conveniently tossed in my driveway, I was downright grateful that I did not have far to carry them! I found a quarter, too.

Like Ed, and other posters, I do not think the streets and byways are improved by depositing trash willy nilly. Education would be more effective than punishments, in my view. And the Eye is uber educational. Keep up the good work, always carry a trash bag, and don't let trash get you down! Thanks to all posters for being part of the solution to this vexing problem.
PS Suggesting that the founder of the Eye is "not doing anything" or "not devoting sufficient energy" to improving Middletown is like saying the founder of KidCity is a lazy slut. Get real.

Anonymous said...

Dear anon @ 10:12 am,

I had the same problem - then I just started signing my name within the post and that solved it.

Blogpost is a drag. Hopefully a sugar daddy will be arriving soon to give the Eye a real website.

regards,

-A. Nona Mouse

Anonymous said...

An Nona Nouse...sometimes the answer are so simple there hard to see,

T. Robertson

Anonymous said...

Dear T. Robertson,

Welcome to the tribe!

-A. Nona Mouse

Anonymous said...

The city switched to those trash cans because it would take fewer workers to empty them. They are supposed to hook to the truck. Does anyone know if we are saving any money on them?