Written By: Jeff Winkle Creator of The Clean Mission initiative
The city of Chicago was my only real exposure to urban landscapes growing up. Between April and October, my family would make the 30 mile drive into the city when we could because, during that time of year, the Windy City is a beautiful city. It may be an amazing place during the other months of the year as well, but nobody will ever know because they are inside by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate.
I never realized how relatively clean Chicago is until I started to travel to New York City and live in the Bay Area. I recently moved to the city of San Francisco and was struck almost immediately by the amount of garbage I saw on the streets. It made no sense to me. San Francisco is supposed to be one of the most environmentally-forward cities on earth and yet there are beer cans rolling around the sidewalks in most neighborhoods?! In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world—as long as you keep your eyes looking forward and up. You can find an incredibly diverse mix of cultures, amazing food, and gorgeous views yet you will likely be stepping over trash at times to fully experience SF.
But why? What is causing the immense amount of litter in tourist areas like Pier 39 as well as neighborhoods like SoMa or the Mission District? I started researching the biggest factors contributing to the state of cleanliness in San Francisco. What I found were unsurprising answers: very high population density, public policies enacted in the past that had unintended consequences, and garbage collection systems that incentive dumping garbage in public places. Maybe some citizens want to save the $100 they have to pay to Recology to collect their garbage every week. Maybe the money the homeless receive from trading in bottles encourages them to sort through trash cans, leaving a trail of litter in their wake.
None of these factors surprise me at all. So, maybe the question should be, “What is a city like Chicago with a similar population density doing right to prevent/fix the issues that are making the streets dirtier?” I have not found a straightforward answer to that question. In fact, there are a lot more questions that arise when searching for answers which have made me even more confused.
I reached a point where my conclusion was that I can either accept I won’t find answers to my questions and keep living my life, or just forget about what may be causing the problem and try to do something fix it.
The wheels of The Clean Mission were soon set into motion and the initial excitement and support I received from the community was overwhelming. Tons of amazing people reached out to offer help in any way they could. “Are you artsy? I can help with designing a logo”, “I am your typical SF techie—let me help with the website”, “Please let me know when there is a cleanup event—I have been wanting to do something like this!”
The truth is, I think The Clean Mission tapped into a feeling inside of many citizens who feel like they want to do something to affect positive change in the world, but don’t know what they can do. This initiative offers a way for people of any age to take a little bit of spare time and turn it into an immediate, noticeable impact on the community around them. I will be working hard to allow The Clean Mission to continue to grow, but I know that it will only be because of people like you that long-term impact will be achieved.
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