City anti-litter campaign struggles to be born

Just about everyone in Dorchester can agree that a little public education on keeping the neighborhood clean is in order. A good image can help reduce crime, boost business and lift spirits. But when it comes to how that might be accomplished, as some neatniks are finding out, there a few differences of opinion.

There are the usual varying viewpoints between residents and business owners over who is responsible for what, and to what degree, but even business owners seem to disagree with each other on a plan Darryl Smith and the Mayor's Neighborhood Response Team (NRT) have been attempting to create for the past three years in multiple Dorchester neighborhoods.

Based partly on a model used for Times Square in New York and partly on input from youth groups, residents and business owners, Smith hopes the program could be a pilot for the whole city, but already some neighborhoods are customizing the plan to fit their own needs. Consensus and a one-size-fits-all model have been hard to find.

On Morton Street, Danny Hardaway and the Morton Street Board of Trade loves Smith's draft plan, which includes morning parking restrictions designed to give storeowners a chance to clean up beyond the curb on the sidewalk. Mattapan Square and Maverick Square over in East Boston have been positive too, according to Smith.

But in Codman Square a few business leaders are balking at the idea of limiting parking in any way, and the Main Streets groups in Fields Corner, Four Corners and the St. Mark's Area are cooperating only on part of the plan so far.

"We realized that there was so much more work that needed to be done," Smith said of the delay in the plan's rollout. "Initially we were looking at Codman Square and a couple other districts. It's expanded tremendously. We're doing focus groups in each neighborhood right now."

Two of those meetings, targeted specifically at business owners and hosted by the three Main Streets groups, are scheduled for early next week in St. Mark's and Fields Corner.

Each of the three Main Streets groups has a small grant that could be used for hiring professional consultants to aid in creating a public campaign. So part of the meeting will be dedicated to discussing logos and taglines for the Main Streets effort. Another part will be reserved for a presentation by NRT.

A recent version of the NRT's draft plan would bring renewed parking, cleanliness and police enforcement to participating business districts, weekly hokey men (or women) and green machines, leafleting by the city and a "proactive" ad campaign in several media outlets. The Inspectional Services Department (ISD) - where Smith is assistant commissioner--would host workshops for business owners while youth and community groups will help distribute materials, compete for cleanest yards and sidewalks, host events and help educate others on the anti-litter topic, among other things.

Business owners are already responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their stores clean, according to city ordinance, but the plan "encourages" them to clean 12-18 inches into the gutter, hose or wash their sidewalks down once a week and adopt a tree or a flower barrel to help spruce up the business districts.

The real bone of contention in Codman seems to be the part of the proposal that calls for disallowing parking for two hours a day - currently proposed for 6 to 8 a.m.

"All of the merchants should be responsible for their storefronts," said Oscar Moreno, manager of Mt. Washington Bank's Codman branch, "but with the current parking situation, [some business owners believe] a further parking restriction could hurt business. For now, it's not set. It can be at multiple times of the day, but ISD isn't really budging on this."

Nevertheless, Moreno does support the plan's aims.

"It's a good idea," he said. "This area, if it's clean and maintained, it will definitely pick up a bit more."

At least one other business owner, who is adamantly opposing the plan, worries that he could be cited by ISD anytime trash blows onto his property.

The parking restrictions are also a reason that St. Mark's Area, Fields Corner and Four Corners Main Streets haven't wholly adopted the plan, according to the directors of the programs. Another is that many of the plan's components, such as the youth groups and front yard competitions, fall outside of their main mission, to aid local businesses.

The three Main Streets groups have agreed to facilitate NRT-run business workshops set for September though, as well as the enforcement component of the NRT plan.

"I guess we'll see how this fleshes out with all their elements," said Shelly Goehring, director of Four Corners Main Streets. "It's pretty personalized to each neighborhood."