We have met the pigs and they are us

Don’t get me wrong — I am very happy Mayor Cherelle Parker has vowed, and has just begun, a street-by-street cleanup of Philadelphia.

When this street is cleaned, how long will it remain clean? (Photo: WHYY)

I just think it is a massive waste of time and money.


Too many Philadelphians are pigs.

There’s too much trash in the streets.

How did it get there?

It was dropped or thrown there by Philadelphians.

Am I being too harsh? Or am I dating myself?

Are you old enough to remember when — often in ethnic neighborhoods — old ladies would scrub the front steps and sweep — at least —  the sidewalk in front of their homes?

The same urge to protect “my” property extended to the winter, where homeowners would shovel their own sidewalk after a snow, but often would clear their neighbors’ sidewalk as well, if they were friendly with the neighbor.

Trash doesn’t throw itself on the street. Cars don’t abandon themselves. Short dumping is a human (lack of) value. Household trash doesn’t throw itself into receptacles in parks designed to collect trash from picnickers and ball players.

Quick aside: The first time I met Frank DiCicco, who would later become a South Philadelphia City Councilman, was as he was going through trash in a park receptacle.

Is it against the law to throw household trash in a park receptacle, but some neighbors were doing it anyway.

Then a neighborhood activist, DiCicco would dig through the trash and return it to the neighbor, with a pleasant lecture on doing the right thing “because you could get a ticket for dumping.” He would say it all helpful, like.

How did he know to whom to return the trash?

He would know if the homeowner was stupid enough to leave something with their address on it, like a piece of mail.

Well, at least these dopes used a receptacle, rather than just tossing it on the street, as is not uncommon in low-income neighborhoods. (Trying to be polite and not say “slum,” but that’s one way neighborhoods become slums — the actions of residents who don’t give a crap.)

Now, to me it seems even some middle-class neighbors don’t give a crap. Does the city still write tickets for trash-filled lawns with uncut grass and trees? I know it used to.

Bridget Greenwald, Commissioner of L&I’s Quality of Life Department, says, well, maybe.

“The process is not usually to ticket, but to write a Notice of Violation to the owner and give the owner 10 days to comply and if they do not comply, CLIP performs the abatement and bills the owner.  

“The City can issue a [ticket] if the notice fails and it’s a locked gate or something we can’t abate. They carry a $300 fine.”

Believe it or not, littering is against the law.

You ever see anyone get ticketed for littering?

Of course not. No enforcement, no obedience.

Many decades ago, the out-of-towner brought in as editor of the Daily News, name of Rolfe Neill, would write occasional editorials — he called them letters to readers — about the severe littering in Philadelphia. (You think it’s bad now? Center City is almost operating theater-clean, thanks to the Center City District.) 

The Center City District was yin and yang. 

It did a great job — funded mainly by city businesses — in keeping the city clean, but was an admission our citizens were such disgusting pigs they would not keep their city clean on their own.

Neill made a habit of picking up litter dropped on the sidewalk by pigs and nicely suggesting to them they might use litter baskets.

I’m amazed (and disappointed) he didn’t get killed because litterers tend to be lowlifes.


I may be wrong. They are mainly uncivic citizens with bad upbringing and no sense of pride.

And since they are still here, I fear a week after the streets are cleaned, they will be filthy again.

Am I being unreasonably pessimistic?

Or realistic?

Maybe the Inquirer will bother to check the streets a week after they are cleaned.

40 thoughts on “We have met the pigs and they are us”

  1. The littering and its acceptance as a norm was something I simply could not understand when I lived in Philly. No other city I’d ever been in equaled Philadelphia in its filth. It is something deeply ingrained in the culture of the town I think. Having moved to NC nearly 3 years ago now, I am struck by the differences between Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Cary etc. and Philly. Not a piece of trash to be seen either in the towns or along the highways. When a friend came to visit she marveled at the clean streets and asked what I thought was the difference between Philly and these towns, which had low income sections as well. Apathy and acceptance is all I could answer.

  2. The littering and its acceptance as a norm was something I simply could not understand when I lived in Philly. No other city I’d ever been in equaled Philadelphia in its filth. It is something deeply ingrained in the culture of the town I think. Having moved to NC nearly 3 years ago now, I am struck by the differences between Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Cary etc. and Philly. Not a piece of trash to be seen either in the towns or along the highways. When a friend came to visit she marveled at the clean streets and asked what I thought was the difference between Philly and these towns, which had low income sections as well. Apathy and acceptance is all I could answer.

  3. I live in a rather costly apartment building in the suburbs. No matter how often I voluntarily pick up the litter at the entrance, invariably the same pig or pigs leave the same litter — Dunkin Donuts coffee cups and empty Marlboro cigarette boxes. And, as I said, this is an upscale apartment building and area. Pigs are pigs, no matter their neighborhood. And in all of my trips to Europe I remember very little litter (but lots of dog waste — yuck). Filthydelphia has earned its nickname.

  4. I grew up in the City of Camden, and yep, I sure do remember people sweeping the sidewalk in front of their row homes. There was pride in your home and pride in your neighborhood. Being clean certainly does not require a lot of money. I now live in an HOA neighborhood. I know a lot of people HATE HOAs, and I get that. But this place is 20 years old and you can practically eat of the streets around here. The neighborhood looks brand new because it HAS to. There is value in that. Bottom line: DON’T BE A SLOB.

  5. You don’t have to be a slob just because your poor. Growing up in my old neighborhood most people didn’t have a lot of money but they had a lot of kids. Our mothers would sweep out front every day. And it was clean and safe. And it was the greatest place to grow up. Now my old neighborhood is a crime infested shithole like most of the city. And it’s because of the people who moved there.

  6. Good topic Stu—-
    I am always curious when once a year there is a sort of “Public Service Day” that brings out many groups (Philadelphia Eagles come to mind) who spend the day cleaning up/painting/repairing somebody else’s mess. The enabling of slobs is truly disgusting.
    And Wanda—-I’ve been in the Carolina Triangle many times. The beltway around Raleigh is like a 65 mph drive through a trash dump.


    1. That “once a year there is a sort of “Public Service Day” is known as Martin Luther King Day. It does not “enable slobs”, it helps those in need. When you go to church remember that Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, treated those that society rejected as equals. He didn’t call them slobs or losers and tell them to go fend for themselves.

      Or in other words, be the change you wish to see in the world.

      1. And how often do you attend church and where? Do they provide you with guest spots and time at the pulpit?

        1. My faith taught me that actions speak louder than words. It is easy to speak inside a house of worship, it is important to take those words and turn them into action. and lead by example.

          You have a choice. You can let your anger consume you until you become part of the problem or you can be part of the solution within your own neighborhood. Think globally, act locally.

          1. You make ton of assumptions about people. And if you read my initial comment on Stu’s piece, you’ll note that I place myself out there often in an effort to clean up a small portion of the mess in our community. I have had strangers thank me for my efforts and I hope the model works. But I am not foolish enough to believe that my actions will fundamentally change the currents of the present day zeitgeist. That is dominated by now several generations of self absorbed narcissists with a sense of personal entitlement that shot through all ceilings and their sense of personal responsibility is in the gutter both literally and figuratively.

        2. I saw your original comment and I am glad to see you are making a difference in your community. Change takes time and you should invite your neighbors to help on one of your monthly cleanups, on a regular basis, to encourage others to be part of that change.

          My reply was not directed at you it was directed at the person who felt that actions like yours is “is enabling slobs”. You chose to make a sarcastic comment regarding faith and if you don’t like the answer all I have to say is, o ye of little faith.

          1. 1. I am not making a change in my community. Again, you assume. Five years ago, the problem of litter became so bad, I expanded my routine of cleaning in an effort to combat the blight of the trash and litter. Ten years ago, I expanded my routine of the cleaning the area around our corner property to our full one block , corner to corner. And for the past five years, two full blocks and both sides. One terminus cross street leads directly to the U.S. Rte. 1 Roosevelt Expressway. The litter problem ironically has worsen. The few blocks above us and closer to the regional rail station are simply disgraceful. We live in a “nice” neighborhood in NW Philly. Earlier this month, I picked up a baby diaper filled with baby poop in front our neighbor’s house directly across the street from our house. Some “mom” elected to use our street as her trash can of convenience. Yesterday afternoon I remove the containers of a fast food meal from my front steps, a full day ahead of my “scheduled” liter routine. 2. Stu’s point is spot on. We live in a society of inconsiderate slobs. For those of us who have lived seven decades, we have seen and assessed the change since our youth. My actions serve an immediate purpose of combatting the blight of liter in our neighborhood as well as to model more civic and selfless behavior to others. Twice this month, motorists have stopped their vehicles and verbally thanked me. Outside of these two rare gestures of kindness, I know that my efforts are also sowing seeds on barren and dry ground. The sense of entitlement and level of self absorption that governs this behavior among the younger generations across all demographics has been baked into the current zeitgeist by multiple causative agents for several decades now. Don’t blame the messenger for the message. He placed into words what very many of us already know.

  7. Tires, too. We see piles of tires dumped here and there.

    Most devious dump story I heard was about the small jobbers who were paid to take tires from mechanics all over the city and then they would fling them off the Strawberry Mansion Bridge in the dead of night into the Schuylkill!

    “No cost disposal,” except to the Schuylkill River Dredging Project.

    The tires were so expensive to haul out of the river that the budget allocated to dredge the race course was used up taking 3,000 tires out of the river. So, our internationally famous rowing course is still too shallow for fair racing.

    Many volunteers had worked hard to plan for and to raise the money to dredge that race course, after 60 years of silt deposits, and many “pigs,” to use your word, required the dredging contractor to use the dredge money to take all those tires out of the river.

    Have any of those jobbers been caught, fined and jailed?

  8. Actually Stu its people like you and the infamous Philly shrug that allows that creates this permissive attitude about litter. In your world you believe that no one should make an effort because it won’t last. Since that is the case why do you make an effort to post this blog about things you are concerned about since nothing will change.

    Fortunately there are people who make the effort to be that change like Ya Fav Trashman, Project Clean Streets, City Bright, and others who have not embraced your fatalistic attitude.

      1. You’re right Stu, you are part pf the problem. You talk about how clean Philadelphia was in the past, but you refuse to be part of the solution and thus your Philly shrug. New York City faced a similar problem it took time to change how people dealt with litter, which included efforts like this and ticketing.

        You can be part of the solution, by picking up litter where you live. Setting an example for others.

          1. “I just think it is a massive waste of time and money.”
            “Too many Philadelphians are pigs.”
            “There’s too much trash in the streets.”
            “How did it get there?”
            “It was dropped or thrown there by Philadelphians.”
            You could have as easily written about people like Ya Fav Trashman and others who are leading the way. Instead Your entire article is about how this is doomed to fail so why try at all. So yes Stu, you are part of the problem, Philly shrug and all.

          2. News flash, dumbass. This is MY blog and I choose the angles. If you want different angles, write your OWN blog and stop coming here to annoy the adults.

  9. Neighborhoods with extensive litter problems are where public housing and section (8) rental’s exist. There is no home ownership and there is no pride in a property. Old school residents cleaning steps, sidewalks, front and rear of properties still exist in some Philly neighborhoods. The planting of flowers, maintenance of lawns and back yards are indicators of respect for the neighborhood. In too many neighborhoods the owners of properties are unknown. We have squatters, long lost relatives living in home. These residents have nothing financially invested in the home or neighborhood. Most of these tenants are struggling and maintenance of homes and curbing litter is no concern to them.

    1. Second post, same topic: high rent apartments, dogs peeing the elevators, trash in the hallways. To be fair to Section Eight tenants (if we have any): having money is no assurance of not being a litterbug.

  10. In today’s world in Philadelphia if you took trash out of a litter can and returned it to the person that dumped it, you are taking your life in your own hands. You are opening the door to being assaulted or worse being shot. This city is out of control. This is why the Police, Fire and Correction Officers are permitted to live outside the city. They are the ones that know how bad our city is… It’s crazy out there…

  11. Stu, yes, I remember the days of clean during yesteryear. What has changed? Might the lessons of grade school about civic duty and responsibility have been stricken from the curriculum? I grew up in a row house that had a small front lawn and it was a sense of pride to keep it maintained (not that there weren’t patches of clover and dandelions. However, one correction as you stated “…old ladies would scrub the front steps”.

    In our neighborhood it was called the stoop and was the place where neighbors would stop and chat as residents sat “on the stoop”! Maybe with all the neighbors eyes, there was pressure not to litter. However, not all behavior was exemplary, as I remember Cardo stealing peaches from Mrs. Ramon’s peach tree>

  12. Thank again Stu for throwing light in yet another dark corner of our town. I grew up in West Philly (1960s) where Haddington meets Overbrook in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. And yes, after trash day, our neighbors were out there with brooms and pans in front of their houses and “postage stamp” front yards. Philly Streets Department sent a team of men with huge brooms to sweep the streets after the trash men hauled away the trash. During the warmer months, water trucks would make the rounds washing down the streets. Now we own a house and live in East Falls where the litter and thrown trash on sidewalks and streets became so bad, that five years ago, I began doing twice per month trash and litter pickup for two blocks on both sides of the street. Coming home to Philly from either our Delaware shore refuge or travel overseas makes me feel as if we live in a gigantic trash dumpster.

  13. The same people who cause most of the crime cause most of the trash and everything thing else that brings down our quality of life.

  14. Just wanted to let you know, I got the homage to Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip and my favorite line ever from it. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Truer words were never written.

      1. I feel like you have a particular group of people in mind? Want to share?

          1. Not surprised from previous comments, that you have no problem admitting your a blatant racist.

  15. Thanks for stepping up, again, Stu. Commend Mayor Parker for another needed the initiative——but it’s just a start. The #1 Troop leading step is supervision. There is a lack of real LEADERSHIP in the Community; what has become acceptable behavior in our culture is really just NOT acceptable, that’s where the shrug is obvious to me, it’s not Stu, lack of genuine “Community” Leadership is the problem . How about every city Council person, Clergy leader, Non Profit “Exec. Director (read funded by tax $$$), etc. accept responsibility for their Community; get out the word, hold a “gathering” with a broom in their hand, hand out brooms to community, no signs, no tee shirts, just get to WORK! Use the people they use to get elected to oversee and accept responsibility for “keeping” it clean, figure it out. A real leader has to lead and in this and many aspects of life Leadership at all levels needs to tell the people “straighten up and fly right”. This is really doable, time will tell what kind of Leadership Philadelphia has.

  16. 90% of the litter (and 100% of the graffiti) is caused by 13% of the population

  17. We live in a throwaway society. We throw away trash, litter, cigarette butts, children, etc…
    My main complaint are the assholes who use businesses dumpsters as their personal trash receptacles. Ours usually have things like tires, broken furniture, grass & bush clippings, old propane tanks, etc… The Wawa dumpster (near my old house) even had human body parts in it!
    My mother and grandmother did sweep the sidewalks, curb, and the streetside. We also cut the grass and edged.

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