I love the City of Tulsa and I think most citizens agree it is a wonderful place to live. That said it is fair to say there are things we could do to make Tulsa an even better place to live, both for those already here and those who might consider visiting or moving here.
Judging by all of the trash around town it’s obvious we have a serious problem with litter and graffiti which has affected our community’s sense of pride and self worth. This fact of life was clearly illustrated by efforts to “clean up” Tulsa during the recent NCAA Tournament. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when it takes a major sporting event like a golf or basketball tournament which attracts thousands of out of state visitors, to address a massive problem that is pretty much ignored the rest of the year.
When planning for the future there are numerous worthy ideas for community improvements which deserve consideration, from public transportation and infrastructure improvements to quality education at all levels. These and countless other community needs never lack for ideas, only the capital required to fund them.
As we seek to define ourselves and carve out a niche that we as a community can hang our hat on, we search for that which makes us unique and different. Perhaps it’s time to look to the past for inspiration. For many of us it has not been that long ago that Tulsa was recognized nationally as one of America’s “most beautiful” cities. Now we live in relative squalor as evidenced by the mountainous volumes of litter, trash and debris which inundates our gutters, streets and rights-of-way.
With so many other pressing needs facing our city it looks as if we have all turned a blind eye to the proliferation of trash and litter; and to that extent we now face a problem of seemingly epidemic proportions. Like fixing the streets… the problem was not created overnight nor will it be solved overnight. However, unlike our worn out streets, it is not going to cost $2,000,000,000 to get back where we can once again be considered one of America’s cleanest and most beautiful cities.
If our community can come together and form a united front against the small percentage of the population responsible for this threat, we can definitely be successful. We must make it make it clear to those who bring shame and embarrassment to our town by their flagrant disregard for the simplest of civil responsibilities, that their behavior will no longer be tolerated, and we are going to adopt a “zero tolerance” for littering and graffiti.
I believe there are many other citizens who are fed up with our litter lined landscape and they want something done about it. Hopefully the timing is right to galvanize our resources and resolve to reverse this sad state of affairs. Perhaps it is time to appoint a task force to study this problem and come up with a plan of action to permanently clean up our town. If we work together we can once again be the poster child for clean and beautiful cities. I urgently and respectfully request every Tulsan to join me in this crusade to beautify our City of Tulsa.
Potential Task Force Goals and Objectives
1. Define the community’s goals and standards for cleaning up our city. From that definition develop a “mission statement” which will serve as a guide to all who take a pro-active role in helping us achieve a cleaner place to live. Personally, I would like to see us think big, and pursue a course of action that in time would make us the cleanest city over 250,000 in the world.
As for beautification, we know we already live in a beautiful city surrounded by abundant water resources with our lakes and rivers. Let us celebrate and cultivate these rich water resources by committing to a long term plan to make our city known world-wide as “A City of Fountains.” Development of these assets is a natural for Tulsa and could be achieved through public and private partnerships.
2. Encourage rigid enforcement of our existing laws and ordinances against littering and defacement of public property. The task force could meet with Tulsa’s legal and law enforcement officials to try and determine what, if anything can be done to utilize our already thinly stretched law enforcement resources to more effectively enforce our existing ordinances and laws against littering and graffiti.
Consider the advisability of imposing stiffer fines and penalties for littering and make recommendations for any changes which could then be presented to the City Council for consideration. We need to make a statement to violators by raising the bar on the consequences of getting caught. If the penalties amount to only a slap on the wrist, they will never be a true deterrent to littering.
Our hardworking city employees deserve great credit for the outstanding job they are doing under difficult budget constraints but we simply must find a way to beef up our “code enforcement” response to violations that often seem to go on for months and years without any progress.
3. Study what other communities are successfully doing. If all goes as planned, other communities may soon be studying our approach to achieving and maintaining a clean community. In the meantime we should look at what other cities are currently doing to address the problems of litter and graffiti.
In the last few years Tulsa has made progress in creating a community awareness of the need for recycling but there is much work to be done. Here again we can look at what others are successfully doing to take recycling to the next level. Tulsa has gained national attention for our flood control programs and given the right mindset we can earn the same recognition for our recycling programs.
4. Find long-term enforcement solutions. It looks like the biggest obstacle to a clean city is the lack of enforcement and the real and perceived notion that you can litter our environment with apparent impunity and little risk of consequences. We must find a way to make the offenders pay a larger portion of our litter and graffiti cleanup costs.
I suggest we ask the proposed task force members to meet with leaders from all of our institutions of higher learning and encourage them to form a consortium to develop and implement a long range plan to achieve the technology necessary to cost-effectively catch and prosecute those who foul our environment.
While I am not necessarily a big fan of government sponsored eavesdropping this may well be the only sensible course of action to eliminate a very disturbing problem. We could ask our local colleges and universities to explore the feasibility of a partnership for the purpose of researching potential electronic surveillance solutions to litter just as we have for those who run red lights or toll gate entries. We might ask them to explore the use of possible federal grants to fund this research and development.
Or they may want to go it alone and capitalize on patenting the technology which would most assuredly be in high demand by every community on the planet, if it could cost-effectively cut down on the growing problem of litter, graffiti and polluting of the environment.
5. Organize groups to help in the clean-up process. Over the years there have been many groups including “adopt a highway” and others who have volunteered to help clean up roadside litter and debris. While this approach has been somewhat successful in the past it has lacked the kind of organization and management of these resources to provide a consistent and ongoing solution to the problem.
Study the feasibility of establishing a separate department within city government whose responsibilities might reasonably include organizing and overseeing our clean-up efforts. Cleaning up trash and litter in our streets, rights-of-way and public areas should be priority number one. Cleaning, maintenance and improvements of our City Parks should be priority number two. We have some very active neighborhood associations and I would like to encourage each of them to partner with the City of Tulsa to improve the beauty and maintenance of our parks and public areas.
The task force might also investigate how this proposed new city department might be utilized to develop a long-term plan to remediate, reclaim, redevelop and revitalize our “brownfields”…those rusty and abandoned industrial and commercial sites that represent some of our city’s most blighted areas and biggest eyesores.
6. Educate all Tulsans on the benefits of being a clean city. In order to be successful we will need to capture the imagination of both young and old.
Education for children: Investigate what if anything is currently being taught the children of our public and private schools about protecting our environment from litter and filth. From these findings, formulate new models which our schools can use to help inspire children to reverse this trend of complacency and lack of respect for our public landscape.
Education for adults: Again, we assume it is a small percentage of the populace that is guilty of littering but we must identify who is most likely to offend in this regard so that we can tailor public service campaigns and messages that will reach them. This is another area that the proposed higher education consortium can assist in through research and study.
Involvement of the electronic and print media: We should solicit the support and cooperation of every local media outlet to embrace this community goal of a beautiful and clean Tulsa. We should also encourage every present or former Tulsan who has achieved celebrity status in any field to craft powerful media messages on why keeping Tulsa clean is a good idea and how it can and will benefit everyone who lives here.
7. Look into funding sources for our clean-up efforts. While it will not take 2 billion dollars to clean up Tulsa… success will not come without an increase in costs. With so many other needs with arguably higher priorities it will be a challenge to fund these increased costs. For most of us an increase in taxes is an absolute last resort but perhaps it is time to study the feasibility of a small increase in sales taxes on any kind of goods offered in disposable packaging and containers, as that seems to represent the biggest problem when it comes to litter.
As a child growing up I remember my parents instilling in me a sense of responsibility to maintain a clean home and yard. It was a simple matter of personal pride and self respect. The old saying “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” was an often repeated phrase around our very middle class household that was situated in a modest neighborhood just north of downtown Tulsa. My brother and I were taught that not even poverty is an excuse to live in filth and squalor because it costs little or nothing to keep things clean.
In those days fast food restaurants (with their accompanying array of disposables) were still a novelty, so we did not see a lot of trash on the streets and rights- of- way in Tulsa. I do however remember traveling with my parents by car through parts of rural Oklahoma and Arkansas, witnessing trash and debris along the roadside that seemed shocking by most any standards. Whether it was true or not, we were told these eyesores symbolized people who were backwards and uneducated and it would never happen in Tulsa.
These days, it is not shocking to see a bag of half eaten hamburgers and fries flying out the window of a $75,000 Lexus piloted down the highway by a not only highly educated but prosperous “citizen” who cares more about having a clean car than living in a clean town. The next time you enter or exit any expressway or arterial in Tulsa, take a look at the litter than lines the road. Is this the kind of legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren? Do we turn a blind eye to this day after day and only get serious about cleaning it up when guests are expected?
You might say that I see Tulsa not so much as it is, but as it was and as it can be again. We can begin by developing a community mindset that says “enough is enough, we are not going to accept this anymore.” We may live in a global economy that often presents challenges beyond our control, but litter and graffiti are not among them. We can do something, we MUST do something. I have advanced some ideas on how we might go about reversing the trend. Please join me in taking a stand. Engage anyone who will listen from elected officials to civic and business leaders. Let’s clean up TULSA, permanently! Bill Leighty is a Broker Associate with McGraw Realtors, a member of the Transportation Advisory Board, the Tulsa Land Use Task Force, and currently serves as Chairman of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.