a short walk & visual essay
august 23 2009
I’ve been sick of the litter around here for a long time.
Sick of walking through the rubbish that accrues by the side of the road and along the footpath,
clagging up stormwater drains. It has come to represent an excessive suburban existence of
want and waste.
The bottles of piss get to me most. I’d wondered why all the soft drink bottles contained yellow
fluid. Asked John about it and whether it was caused by some chemical reaction involving
heat, sugar and sun. John laughed, explaining that drivers piss in their empty drink bottles then
chuck them out the window. They can’t be bothered stopping or leaving their hotted up cars
which are tearing through local streets. So the bottles of piss accumulate in the gutter or are
cast onto the footpath.
So too the fast food packaging, the junk food wrappers, drink cans and bottles, cigarette butts
and packs. The litter tells me something about the people who pass through here.
But you know what really gets to me? When the Council or Main Roads, or some property
owner or ‘gardener’ mows over the top of it all, shredding up the rubbish, leaving a confetti of
litter on the ground as if it was mulch.
I wonder about the impact the proliferation of litter has on others. We
find that it evinces a lack of care or thought, a break in social and
cultural connection with place.
Late one Sunday afternoon, John and I decided to go for a walk to track the litter. We decided to walk the route we walk to go to
my mother’s house. We live in a street running off one side of the main road and she lives on a street running off the other. We
wanted to document this experience of walking from the corner of our street to the creek crossing on the side of the road. Perhaps
in undertaking this exercise, we might come to a better understanding of the relationship between roads, cars, litter, design,
walkability, suburbs and planning.
This walk is no more than 200 metres in length. We haven’t included every photograph here as we took about 100 between us.
Only those we think tell a story linking litter, roads and suburban life. They tell us, in part, where the litter comes from, how it
accrues and the damage it causes.
We live in a drive-by and drive-through place. Here, the small stuff is rarely noticed unless you happen to be on foot and the place
isn’t really that nice for feet or for bodies or for people. The suburb is spliced in two by this eight lane highway. Treeless and
cracking footpaths hug the roads. On one side low rise box buildings retreat from both the footpath and the people to make way
for cars and parking. On the other side a rehabilitated creek lined with trees frames the continuous tide of traffic.
After roadworks and curbing at the T junction of our street and the main road, nothing was done to rehabilitate the grass. Water
and litter pool against the curbing.
An outer suburban area, our locality has a full complement of fast food outlets.
This professional office space is currently for lease and has been vacant for six months.
Every weekend, usually late at night, the ‘for lease’ signs outside the vacant office are kicked in. The signs are usually left where
they fall. Recently the signs were replaced and instead of taking the ruined signs away, the agent just left them under the bushes.
We live near a hotel. As punters leave with their bottles still in hand, they skull the dregs before tossing the empty onto the ground
in the neighbourhood. They then get in their cars and drive away. Depending on their mood, they might throw the bottle into the
road so that it smashes, or place it in the path of oncoming traffic so that someone drives over it.
Every day John collects the rubbish in our part of the street left behind by the hotel’s patrons. At one point I complained about the
rubbish and the hotel was instructed to clean up the street every morning. They did it a couple of times but mostly it falls back to
us to do. Other neighbours don’t bother cleaning the street.
What baffles us is why business operators don’t just tidy it up. For us, we won’t do business with companies and businesses that
don’t care for the local environment and consider their impact on local pedestrian and public spaces. It’s a no brainer: if
businesses don’t look after the local community and maintain a walkable and clean public environment, then we won’t deal with
them. Fast food and alcohol cultures are culpable in the dynamic of reducing local amenity.
These gazania grow by the side of the road in large beds. One of the few mass plantings that frame public pedestrian spaces.
This material looks like ceiling insulation. It was scattered everywhere one day. In the course of the day, the material was broken
up by being driven on, mowed over and blown around.
Business operators keep reasonably well maintained garden beds but seem to refuse to clean up litter.
On the footpath outside the service station.
John came home irritated earlier today. Someone had obviously cleared out the contents of their ute tray and dumped it next to
the creek on the other side of the main road. Leaving cement, paint and other materials to wash into the creek or blow onto the
road. It’s what prompted us to find out about litter in our locality. He has made a complaint to Council about this as well as asked
Council to consider cleaning up the general area to protect the health of the waterway.