Rats in Baltimore, open ditches and trash in Monroe

The media is buzzing about the presence of rats and debris in the City of Baltimore, the part that tourist don’t see.

Recently, the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education met in Baltimore. It was housed in the convention complex on the riverfront. It was clean, neat and filled with color and artistic beauty that serves as eye candy for tourists.

My wife and I were impressed with the beauty and cleanliness of the streets, and the artistry of the architecture and the general appearance of the riverfront area. We complimented residents of the city when we met them on elevators, many received the thanks, but their faces seem to suggest that we should withhold judgment for a while.

It didn’t take long for us to understand their hesitation to accept the compliment. We began to see rats the size of kittens climbing from trash cans, racing across parking lots, and darting here and there.

My grandsons, took seats at the window of our hotel and made a game of watching the rats.

Soon, we noticed them more frequently, behind buildings and darting across alleys.

If rats are a problem in the tourist district which is the city’s most attractive area, then we wondered what it must be like in the poor areas of the city; the parts that tourist rarely see.

We didn’t have time to visit those areas, but this week we saw the videos in the news of the rat infested slums of Baltimore and our hearts sank. We didn’t see it with out own eyes, but what we saw in the tourist parts of the city made it believable.

Monroe often wins the cleanest city awards and the mayor proudly holds up plaques and awards that promote Monroe as the cleanest city in Louisiana.

Baltimore’s image for tourists is that the city is clean and pristine. Monroe’s image for the Cleanest City Judges must be the same.

The judges apparently never visit the poor side of the city, unless our poor side is better than the poor sides of other cities and towns.

The Louisiana Garden Club Federation, which sponsors the Cleanest City Contest uses 100 point rubric to make its determination. It gives points for the cleanliness of public and municipal buildings, parks and recreation areas, business establishments, streets, sidewalks, vacant lots and the overall impression of cleanliness.

Cities can get 17 points extra if they can show evidence that community groups such as Boy Scouts, service clubs, church groups and schools help keep the city clean. Adopt a Spot signs and photos help document this item. They also get points if the city can show what is called a “Book of Evidence” which is a collection of before and after pictures that show progress. This evidence will also include notes, and letters of congratulation. The book is actually judged.

In our category, Monroe won 1st place for 2019. Lake Charles was 2nd place and Alexandria was third place. In its category, West Monroe was third place behind Abbeville and Pineville.

The aim of the contest is to instill civic pride in the individual citizens and thus, improve the appearance of towns and cities.

However, the award is often used by politicians to suggest more than the contest’s stated goals. Politicians actually start believing that their cities are the cleanest, when the award actually salutes cities that have demonstrated civic pride in working to improve the appearance of cities and towns.

The criticism that Baltimore is receiving implies that nothing is being done, but that’s misleading. It seems to be trying but it is overwhelmed. In 2014, for example, the city began an “Alley Sweeping Campaign” in which it brings in large machinery to sweep loose trash, grit and other debris from the streets.” They are working on it, but there is so much blight it overwhelms their attempts.

Similarly, Monroe does tear down dilapidated houses increasing numbers. It sponsors cleanup campaign and makes an effort that is recorded in the “Book of Evidence,”  but its ditching and trash crews in poor neighborhoods are overwhelmed. In some poor areas, trash sits on the streets for months, and grass and debris fill ditches that are sometimes unattended for years.

The Garden Club’s Awards are for a city’s effectiveness in inspiring pride in its community, a fact that should be emphasized when it presents its awards.

For it to be a true “Cleanest City Award”, the scoring rubric should be amended to include how a city or town maintains in poor neighborhoods as well.

Until then, the tourists and the judges only see what they are shown.

They are obviously not shown the poor sides of town.