Throwback Thursday: Clean up your act, NYC
The streets of New York have never been particularly clean. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the problem had reach epidemic levels. So messy were our streets that the New York Times devoted a three-part series to the crisis in August 1980. A graph from the first-day story struck us:
Perhaps the main problem of dirty streets, the researchers have found, is that New Yorkers are learning to live with them. From the Mayor and Sanitation Commissioner, who say they do not have enough money to pay for the necessary men and machines to keep the streets clean, to the pedestrians, motorists, merchants and building superintendents who contribute to the mess or turn their heads and step around it, the people who live and work in the city have come to tolerate dirty streets much as they have come to tolerate other signs of a city with severe problems.
We've come a long way from those years, but the other day, we noticed a garbage can in an otherwise spotless public plaza in Murray Hill that serves as a quiet reminder of those dirtier times. It promotes the city's early 1980s campaign, "New York, Let's Clean Up New York." The campaign showed the city's desperation and offered a solution: New Yorkers had to take responsibility for the mess they were making.
Above, check out a classic commercial for the campaign, and, after the jump, get to know the oddest tool in the city's 1980s street-cleaning arsenal: the "Ed Koch talking broom." What we'd do to hear it bristle at illegally parked cars today.
-- Rolando PujolNew York Newsday
"May 14, 1988
Mayor, Dog Join To Clean Up City
By Kevin Flynn
The Sanitation Department, following in the storied tradition of its cartoon legend Phil D. Basket, yesterday unveiled its latest weapons in the war on litter - the "Ed Koch talking broom" and Buddy the Wonder Dog.
The "Ed Koch talking broom" is a specially equipped sweeper truck that, upon command, broadcasts a recorded message from the mayor. The mayor, in his trademark New Yorkese, tells illegally parked cars to get out of the street cleaner's way.
"This is Ed Koch, your mayor," the tape says. "You know the Sanitation Department cannot sweep this street if you don't move your illegally parked car. Please get it outta here."
Buddy the Wonder Dog is a 10-year-old mixed breed that has been trained to deposit trash in garbage cans. It has appeared on the "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment of "Late Night With David Letterman," where it performed such feats as opening a beer can with its teeth.
Buddy and the mayor, acting as coach, went through some trial runs yesterday outside City Hall, pretending for the cameras that Buddy's red water dish was really worthless trash.
"We will try just about anything to help New Yorkers clean up their act," said the mayor as he kicked off the city's new "Looking Great in '88" anti-litter campaign.
As if to prove that, sanitation officials announced that the campaign, which is being co-sponsored by We Care About New York Inc., will feature rewards for faithful "pooper scoopers." They will get free doggie treats, courtesy of a petfood company, if volunteers spot them performing the dutiful endeavor.
Sanitation officials said they are optimistic that the 95 "Ed Koch talking brooms" will succeed where prior techniques - honking horns and "getting out and being nice to folks" - have failed.
Koch said he expects motorists to imagine "I'm on their tail and that I'm in the car immediately behind them. And if they don't get out, well, we may just have to give them a summons and they'll expect me to get out of the truck and give them the summons."
There are still some kinks to work out, however. It seems the mayor's message is too low at times to be heard over traffic.
"The noise of the engine is right where the speaker is," said Mike Barbarotto of the Sanitation Department's Audio Visual Unit. "But we think we can make an adjustment by making a better copy of the tape and repositioning the speaker."
Koch said litter-prevention efforts will be especially important this year because "our uncertain fiscal picture has forced us to be more prudent in spending on services." The mayor's budget proposes cutting 460 sanitation employees through attrition.