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If they come, then so will the garbage

13 October 2013

This might seem like an incredibly easy thing to remedy, yet it’s not being done very effectively in any city I’ve visited.

If a space is created for people to congregate then garbage will be left behind. So put garbage and recycling cans there. Simple right? But why isn’t it happening.

I have a theory and I believe it goes back to the drawing board. I think park and urban planners sit down at their computer or sketchpad and begin drawing lines and creating the flows they want people to experience. They eagerly rush off with the plan to get input from their colleagues and the plan is approved. Then the park is constructed or the new city neighbourhood is built and it all looks beautiful, that is until you let people use that new park or move in to that new community. The garbage starts to show up and the planners scratch their heads wondering why people aren’t using the perfectly placed trash cans.

Why does this happen?

It’s tough to do user testing on a brand new park prior to building it. Although I’m sure simulation software is getting better at mimicking human behaviour.

There are some easy things that these planners can do to help reduce the amount of garbage showing up in their new parks and communities (and old parks and communities as well).

First…look for the private spots you’ve created. People like to be in our parks but they also seek privacy. And often times these little nooks and crannies don’t come with trash cans. Instead someone has to roll through that spot with the Grrbage app and clean it up. So, look for the areas that people can hide away in and place garbage and recycling cans there.

Second…visit the new site for a few months and start watching for the adaptive paths. For those that don’t know, adaptive path means shortcut. The lines that were drawn on the plan to outline the walking trails are typically done to flow with the environment. ¬†Ex. A path that follows the shoreline of a lake. These plans look great when you stare at them on a drawing or from a plane after it’s built. But you need to come back and watch for the new paths created by the people that have found the most efficient way to get through your new park. It’s very typical to see garbage collect along these paths. Place garbage cans along these shortcuts.

Third…and I touched on this already. There needs to be a recycling can beside each garbage can…always! There I just made it a rule. Most of the stuff people throw on the ground is recyclable (plastic bottles, cigarette packaging, receipts and plastic bags). So don’t make them feel bad for throwing out a bottle, give them the ability to recycle where ever they can throw garbage away.

These are just some observations based on collecting garbage in the public spaces. Not earth shattering news or anything but is a trend in most cities and parks.

Let me know if you have any observations that city and park planners could use to help prevent garbage from collecting in the environment.

Morgan Wadsworth

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