To Smell A Thief

Somebody keeps stealing garbage cans in Dallas, and it's causing a stink. Reason: These aren't your usual Rubbermaid trash cans; they're official City of Dallas receptacles, 90-gallon cans with wheels known as roll carts that are designed to work with automated garbage trucks.
by | September 2003

Somebody keeps stealing garbage cans in Dallas, and it's causing a stink. Reason: These aren't your usual Rubbermaid trash cans; they're official City of Dallas receptacles, 90-gallon cans with wheels known as roll carts that are designed to work with automated garbage trucks. And when a garbage can gets stolen, it can take from three weeks to several months to get a replacement. (Normally, city sanitation crews won't pick up trash in unauthorized containers, but people with missing cans can get permission to use plastic bags.) About 2,000 of the cans disappear each year. So who would steal a used garbage can? "There are various reasons, I guess," said one sanitation official. "Sometimes people don't put them away, and little kids get them and roll each other around in them." Homeless people have been known to wheel them away for use as storage lockers. And thieves once crashed a car into an electronics store, stacked laptops into a roll cart and made off with their loot. Finally, said the sanitation official, "One of our roll carts is in the police evidence room. Somebody used it to store a dead body."

STREETCAR DESIRE

What's not to like about streetcars? Well, they're slow, and because people jump on and off every block or so, they don't cluster development around stations like subways or even light rail. On top of that, because they use tracks, streetcars are locked into their routes, unlike buses. But, wait: Those are all reasons to LOVE streetcars, some in Atlanta are saying. A well-connected group of business people, developers and politicians is trying to bring streetcars to an 8-mile stretch of Peachtree Street from downtown to Buckhead, the upscale retail and office district north of town. So how would having a slow but permanent mode of transportation help Peachtree Street? The slow ride would encourage people to ride a few blocks and walk a few blocks, one planner said. "I think this could … effectively open up a walking neighborhood up and down the Peachtree [corridor]," he said. And because streetcars don't have stations, they encourage a more "linear" style of development, which planners think is appropriate for Peachtree Street. Finally, the fact that streetcars use tracks rather than rubber tires would signal developers that investments along the route would be protected. "I would say it's a 70 to 80 percent chance a streetcar will roll down Peachtree Street in the next five years," said one city council member.

MOB RULES

There are many strange things in cities, but here is the newest form of wackiness: "Smart mobs" are forming across the country. Organized mostly through the Internet, smart mobs are groups that descend on a place at a certain time, do something bizarre, then leave after 10 minutes. They are inspired by a recent book by Internet guru Howard Rheingold, "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution." Rheingold thinks the Internet and wireless devices will change the way political protests unfold in the future. But in the meantime, all that's happening is … bizarre behavior. Take Minneapolis, where 60 people showed up at the Mall of America, gathered in front of the Sears store and acted like robots. After a few minutes, they reconvened at the Bose store, crowded into a TV viewing room and requested popcorn. In New York, hundreds gathered in the mezzanine of the Grand Hyatt hotel, applauded loudly, then left. In San Francisco, several hundred strangers whirled in circles across Market Street. What's the point? "Right now, it's a fun little prankish kind of thing," said the organizer of one Web site about smart mobs. But, he added, it has potential to be more. "It's proof that we can come together instantly using the tools we have. We're hoping it's going to turn into something a lot bigger."

NICKEL-AND-DIME BUSINESS

What is it about parking meters that makes so many people mad? Denver's new mayor, John Hickenlooper, was elected in part because of commercials showing him walking down a street, plugging quarters into meters from a change dispenser on his belt. His point: The city charges too much to park ($1.50 per hour in some places) and makes it hard to feed the meters. In San Francisco, the board of supervisors backed off a plan to install meters in Golden Gate Park because people didn't like the idea of paying to park in a park. What's next, one supervisor demanded to know: Charging people "a nickel to look at a squirrel? Ten cents to look at a tree?" But meters aren't going away anytime soon. Reasons: They're a great cash business for cities. (Denver collects $7 million a year from its meters.) They beat raising taxes. (Hence, the increase in meter rates in recent years.) And they keep cars from parking in front of stores all day long. That's why Washington, D.C., is adding 1,100 meters, a 10 percent increase. "You have parts of the city that are coming back," said an official with the company that maintains Washington's meters. "There are a lot of new restaurants and office buildings. It's in those areas that they now want more regulated parking."

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