In Your Town: Trash Cans & Recycling Bins

Lately we’ve talked a lot about looking at and seeing your town/community/city in more detail than usual, and identifying what you like and possibilities for improvement. See these posts and discussions for starters: What’s Your Community Wish?Small, Public Spaces: Parklets; Street Observations: 10 Questions; On Your Streets: Curbs.

So, what do trash cans and recycling bins have to do with any of this? Well, have you ever found yourself walking around and wanting to throw out or recycle something? You don’t really notice the existence of or lack of such receptacles until you need one, right? Maybe it’s like looking for a bench. You don’t think about it until you really want to sit somewhere.

Do trash and recycling receptacles matter in our built environment, specifically our historic downtowns? Frankly, yes. For one thing, it keeps the environment clean. And secondly, it makes for a more pleasant experience, because our streets and parks feel whole. Meaning, if you have everything you need, you’ll likely to appreciate the place and your time there.

Concord, NH. Note the trash bin at the edge of the sidewalk and crosswalk.

Yet, many of our towns and villages struggle with the issue of trash and recycling receptacles because it can be expensive and labor intensive. And then where do you put them? As mentioned previously, many of our towns are not blessed with wide sidewalks and there is not room for such street furnishings, especially if you are looking for trash and recycling. But, there is no way around this. Trash and recycling bins are important to a healthy community.

Receptacles come in many shapes, sizes and styles, from cast iron boxes like the one below to decorative barrels to open barrels on a post to concrete and hard top plastic. We’ve all seen these, I’m sure. But have you ever thought about them?

One example: zero sort receptacles in Rutland, VT.

So the next time you are out and about, take note of your streets. Are there trash and/or recycling receptacles? Of what style and material? (Meaning, are they barrels, metal, open cans, etc.?) Are there enough? Are your streets clean? Are they necessary where you live?

Trash & recycling in Keene, NH (where there are large sidewalks and pedestrian spaces).

Understanding such a seemingly minute aspect of our built environment allows us, preservationists and beyond, to shape our communities for the better. A well-cared for community is one that people will love, and one that is worthy of people’s pride. And that makes for a better sense of place. Make sense? Can you think of other “minute” details that can make a big impact where you live and visit?

Street Observations: 10 Questions

Sunshine, flowers, spring foliage, light rain, no more snow, more daylight hours – what more could you want? While some people love cold weather (skiers, for example), eventually, we all are craving sunshine and warmth. The streets are filled with bicyclists, walkers, runners, kids, adults, and everyone is happy in the sun.  Here in Vermont, March and April are not always the prettiest of months (some call it stick season, some call it mud season…there is a lot of brown), so we eagerly await the springtime foliage and warmer days. If you live further south, you’ve been out and about for months in warmth, I know.

Regardless of when this resurgence of green and spring is for you, it is an excellent time to take a look around your streets and your town and to really think about them.  Think about street that you like. Have you thought about why you like it? Could you describe it to someone? I’d bet that there are specific aspects of the street that help to shape why you like it over another.

For a fun mental exercise, below are 10 questions to ponder the next time you are out and about. Perhaps you think about these already or maybe it’s a new topic for you.

(1) What do your streets look like? Are they wide enough for two lanes of traffic and parking lanes? Are they narrow city alleys? Where do cars park: on grass, on gravel, formally, informally?

(2) Do your streets have sidewalks? Are the sidewalks level with the travel lane? Are they concrete or asphalt or brick?

(3) Do the sidewalks have distinct curbs? Or is it just a slab of concrete or poured asphalt with a nondescript edge?

(4) Do the streets have green strips? In other words, is there grass between the traveled lane and the sidewalk?

(5) Are the streets filled with trees or void of trees? What types of trees?

(6) Where are the power lines?  Overhead or buried?

(7) Where are the mailboxes? At the curb or on the house?

(8) What types of buildings are on the street? Is it commercial or residential or both? Can you name the architectural style? Are they one-story, two-story or more? Are they single family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings, row houses or something else?

(9) Is there street furniture such as benches and trash or recycle bins? 

(10) What do you think of this street? Is it pleasant? Loud? Quiet? Aesthetically pleasing? Ugly?

So, what else would you add? Did you discover anything new about your streets? Beware, you may never stop thinking about this now that you’ve noticed these nuances. But, that is a good thing! Understanding your environment aids in understanding your sense of place and in defining why you prefer one place over another.

Livability Essentials: Sidewalks

I love sidewalks. Seriously. Sidewalks create connectivity in neighborhoods and towns, which increases the livability and quality of life for the community members. Why? Children can walk on the sidewalks, safe out of the traveled lanes of traffic. Pedestrians, runners, dog walkers and everyone else can stroll or dash through town without having to constantly worry about a car swerving into the shoulder or a car door opening.

Sidewalk in Jamaica, VT.

The visual connectivity of sidewalks is important, as much as the functional aspects. Sidewalks are a transition zone between private property and the public road; within this transition zone, people can stop and talk if they’d like. It is almost like the “third place” – a meeting place – (almost) in the street. Sidewalks create neater looking neighborhoods and in general, aesthetically pleasing corridors improve sense of place and quality of life. Additionally, sidewalks signal a residential setting, which then causes slower traffic; sidewalks can be traffic calming devices.

However, many rural towns do not have sidewalks. In some areas, they are not feasible because the cost would be too great for construction and maintenance, simply due to the distance that would necessary. In such cases, people are lucky if the road shoulders are wide enough for safe cycling, walking and running. Unfortunately there are many state highways and roads in Vermont that are very narrow and, although, they are bike routes, they are not safe for the beginning cyclist or children. There are “share the road” programs, but if you’ve ever had to pass a cyclist on the road and have encountered oncoming traffic, you know how dangerous these instances can be. Wider shoulders or separate bike lanes would be a much better solution.

At the very least, village centers should have formal, concrete sidewalks rather than gravel shoulder/path combinations. I feel safer on a sidewalk as a runner and as a pedestrian; I imagine parents want their children on sidewalks as they wander to and from school and other activities.

Long story short; in general, when in a residential setting, sidewalks are appropriate and improve the quality of life and the walkability/mobility through town (historic district or not). When are they not appropriate? When the population of an area is dispersed and sidewalks would not connect logical places. In those situations, it is time to consider safer pedestrian and cyclist transit lanes.

What are your thoughts on sidewalks? Love? Impartial? Unnecessary? Vital?