Five weeks ago, I asked what was working in the territory and what wasn’t. You had a lot of answers. You had a lot of frustrations as well as some solutions. My absolute favorite solutions didn’t require passing any new laws or funding a new branch of bureaucracy. You had a few of those.
Most of your complaints about what wasn’t working had to do with beautification, a polite way of saying you found things unnecessarily ugly. The Department of Public Works has your feedback and has gotten back to me saying they’re going over it. I sent them 34 individual concerns of yours. Again, responding to the inquiry is in addition to their normal work, so we’ll give them time.
Some of you have brilliantly decided not to wait. You’ve taken action.
Littering is a mindset. It’s a passive habit. I suspect no one wakes up thinking of their big day tossing trash where it ought not be. Maybe someone gets a perverse thrill out of chucking a bottle in the bush. But I suspect most litterbugs don’t think about it much. And if they do, that’s someone else’s job to clean it up, right?
I’ll argue the opposite.
A few “local tourists” wrote advocating for an adopt-a-highway program where companies, schools, and any sort of agency could fund weekly trash pickups along roadways, beaches, or problematic lots. The sponsor would supply litter-grabbing tools, trash bags, and maybe some volunteers in return for a sign recognizing their efforts. Lots of places do this, and it seems to work.
One reader wrote with an idea for a government-sponsored cleanup of abandoned vehicles. They suggested paying residents $100 for each vehicle they remove. The program would provide free towing and ship the vehicles off-island for recycling. “We could get rid of thousands of broken down, abandoned vehicles and eliminate another eyesore.”
Like most bounty-hunter schemes, this one has merit and drawbacks. Difficulties: funding, regulation, coordination, oversight, etc. Benefit: getting rid of the eyesore. Also, as for the car recycling, if the fluids and other toxic bits have been removed, the steel hulks can be useful in reef-building and homebuilding. A friend leveled his garden by stacking junk cars and then filling it in with rock and dirt. (I don’t know what permits he did or did not get for this project but please know my advice in construction and legal matters is worth exactly what you paid for it.)
All over our islands, thoughtful people are cutting out the middleman, tossing out the need for paperwork, and putting on some work gloves. It isn’t somebody else’s job to clean up. It’s ours.
A St. Thomas reader wrote a beautiful little tale of using COVID downtime well:
“During the lockdown, I cleared the roadway in my area and took pride in it by planting easy-to-maintain species of ground cover and plants to keep the Ginny grass from growing, making it easier for the road crews to maintain, preventing soil erosion and, most importantly, adding beauty to our islands! Also, because I feel responsible in maintaining the work I put into it, I pick up trash (noticeably less because of the beautification efforts) and occasionally weed out a few plants.
“I have seen a few areas like in Anna’s Retreat do the same, bravo!”
“Imagine if all of us did the same thing and adopted our own stretch of a neighborhood roadway?”
Imagine indeed. Because we aren’t adopting anything. Adopting means caring for that which wasn’t always your responsibility. Maintaining our home is always our responsibility.
I — like a lot of you — spend a portion of my beach time collecting plastic cups, straws, and cigarette butts (thankfully less these days). We can’t get most of the abandoned vehicles this way, but we have a responsibility to try. We can cut grass. We can sweep up. We can pick up trash. We can slap a coat of paint on something. We can also make up little signs that say something like Roadway Kept Litter Free By Virgin Islanders.
Remember, we aren’t fixing things for tourists alone. It’s for you and me, local tourists.
Another reader wrote, saying. “It just looks so bad. If we don’t show self-respect, why would a tourist like what they see?”
By the way, if you missed the first four installments of our “local tourist” experiments, they’re linked here.