Street Corner History: why are we blogging?

Sometimes, though not often, someone is interested enough to hear me grumbling about our rubbish problems. And when I listen to myself I am amazed that I am so knowledgeable about both the rubbish disposal regulations in Amsterdam, and the rubbish habits of my neighbours.

I have been thinking about this recently and realised that readers of this blog may be a little surprised too. So I thought I would describe the history of our rubbish problem, so you might see that this knowledge has been built up over years; years of having to try and deal with this problem, to little effect.

This is a long post, after all, this is a history lesson.

The whole saga started about, hmm, eight? years ago when the Warmoesstraat received a major facelift: the street was dug up, the bitumen was removed, the cables were relaid (many times) and at the end of it, we received nice red street bricks, and very expensive stone pavements. Anyway, previous to these upheavals, garbage did not accumulate on the corner of the OZ Armsteeg and the Warmoesstraat every rubbish day.

But, at the start of the many months that the Warmoesstraat was inaccessible, the gemeente sent a letter along the street explaining that the garbage trucks couldn’t come down the Warmoesstraat and therefore could we please deposit our garbage in one central spot? Now I don’t remember them specifically pointing to our corner, but in any case it got elected.

Unfortunately, even after the Warmoesstraat was reopened, the garbage from all of our neighbours still kept assembling itself on our corner. To this very day.

In 2003 we were getting very fed up with the various problems in our alley: we had one of the best known junkie hotspots in the whole of Amsterdam; we had a mountain, and I mean a mountain, of rubbish every Tuesday and Friday which would often not get picked up until the afternoon, not much fun, particularly in summer; graffiti artists were making a mess of the rest of the alley; and, the alley was usually filled with illegally parked cars. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the Leger des Heils (Salvation Army) also had a daytime shelter for the various lost souls that drift around the city. Periodically the LdH also used to hand out social security or pension or whatever payments. Which attracted the dealers who used to stalk the alley waiting for the cash-loaded junkies. You name it, we had it.

The apartments in our house had a meeting and came up with some really good ideas. I have notes somewhere, but some of the ideas that I remember were:

  • Graffiti: Our house already had an anti-plak en klad contract against the graffiti, so we decided to see if we could get the other houses in the alley to get a similar contract. That has largely worked; the OZ Armsteeg is now, in general, graffiti-free.
  • Gemeente: We would ask the gemeente to pick up the rubbish in the morning, instead of leaving it to stink and fester. That worked. It is currently picked up at about 8.30 each rubbish morning. Shortly afterwards, the cleaning crew comes along and makes it all sparkly.
  • Cars: We would talk to Hotel Centrum and point out that he could lose his garage license if the cars that should be parked in his “garage” were in fact parked in the alley. Mostly successful. Nowadays the alley is mostly car-free.
  • Junkies: Together with The Last Waterhole (since moved), and later a police camera, we managed to evict the junkies from our corner. The Leger des Heils closed down the shelter, or moved it somewhere else. The junkies have undoubtedly moved on to bother someone else but they aren’t here any more.
  • Coffee mornings: This was a wild, crazy idea that we tried. On several rubbish mornings we got up early, made lots of coffee, and set up a table—complete with tablecloth and a vase of flowers—on the rubbish corner. Every time someone came to deliver their garbage offerings to our corner we would offer them a cup of coffee, hand them a leaflet, and ask them why they were putting their rubbish on our corner. The results were amusing: the junkies and the homeless loved our coffee and cookies; the neighbours scuttled away and decided to put their rubbish somewhere else. We made the grand effort of getting up at 5am on several mornings. It did have a noticeable effect: for a short while the rubbish on the corner consisted of only residential rubbish.

But, sadly, the effect of the koffieochtenden was short-lived. Several months later the rubbish mountain was only slightly smaller, but at least it was getting picked up earlier.

During the long cold mornings of the koffieochtenden we did some research into the rubbish habits of our neighbours. One thing that I observed is that people are very touchy about their rubbish: they don’t like it when you go nosing around in it. (Why is that? Are they ashamed of the stuff that they are throwing away?)

We kicked bags of rubbish and heard glass tinkling. We opened a few rubbish bags and took a sampling. In many cases we could see where the rubbish originated from—tell-tale signs: dead long-stem roses, only given out by one restaurant in this street; beer coasters emblazoned with the offending business’s name; empty bottles of exotic alcoholic spirits, again only served regularly by one business.

We researched the regulations about glass: a horecabedrijf is obliged, by law, to have a glass contract. We harassed the gemeente to harass our neighbours about their glass disposal. To little effect; the problem was that the contact person in the gemeente kept changing, must have been a time of major reorganisations.

We also researched the rubbish regulations and discovered that businesses may deposit their rubbish on the normal rubbish days, but only if they dispose of less than 440 litres (nine rubbish bags) per week. If they produce more rubbish than that then they are obliged, by law, to take on a commercial rubbish disposal contract.

We have kept a log of our actions since 2003, and we have taken many (digital, dated) photographs.

Okay so here we are in 2008. We have had several successes. Our street is junkie-free; it is also graffiti-free, with the glaring exception of Hotel Centrum’s “garage”. But, irritatingly, some of our neighbours are still depositing their rubbish, and their illegal glass, on our doorstep.

Being a Mister-Nice-Guy and getting up early to give you coffee doesn’t seem to work very well. This is the internet age and we have other, more powerful, means of “creating awareness”.

Boiling point? This garbage mountain mess in October 2007.

Time to start blogging…

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