Posted by: Ali | November 25, 2009

Garbage and Parks

When I first moved here, the garbage sat by the front door for days before Ana Maria told me to take out the trash.  You see, if you take out garbage before about 6pm you can get a fine, so she couldn’t do it herself.  I would wait for her to tell me to “remember to take out the garbage tonight” because I didn’t know what day garbage day was.

Eventually she confronted me and asked me why I would never do it on my own, and I told her as much, that I didn’t know what day I was supposed to.  She looked at me, slightly baffled, and told me, “all of them.”  I explained that in Canada the dump trucks only come by about once per week, and she continued to look baffled, asking “what do you do the rest of the week?”

Upon reflection, I find myself asking this: if Peru is a much poorer country than Canada, why do they bother spending precious resources on garbage removal every day of the week?  We get by fine in Canada.

Similarly, although the streets of Lima may not be beautiful and many of the buildings are run-down, in most districts you will find beautifully maintained parks.  They are usually not as extravagant as the ones in Miraflores, but they fulfill the basic function of a park: green space, trees, benches, etc.  Usually a lot of people go to the parks to sit or hang out.  And almost always, in any park you’ll go to, you will see at least one worker sweeping the path or watering the plants or otherwise maintaining it.

Why, then, does the city of Lima, and the poorer districts within Lima, bother to keep parks, when perhaps the money may be better spent filling in potholes or buying school supplies?

I think these two questions are related.  I have read a few studies that indicated that among low-income, high-crime areas in North America, areas where graffiti removal programs have been undertaken have subsequently had lower crime rates.  The conclusion of these studies has been that if policy-makers demonstrate that they care about a neighbourhood, the residents of the neighbourhood will also start to care more as well, which increases the general well-being of the community.  I think that the parks and the garbage removal in Lima are examples of such community revitalization programs aimed at making Limeans care about their city.

Here’s my theory: as a poor country, and especially with a city as large as Lima, Peru has had problems with crime over the past few decades (at least).  In an effort to lower the crime rate and improve the standard of living of the residents of Lima, revitalization programs were undertaken.  It was suggested that the city become beautiful, with no garbage on the streets, and clean manicured parks and gardens to enjoy.  The people of Lima will start to become accustomed to this standard, and think of Lima as a clean and beautiful city, and stop littering and start to take care of their neighbourhood.  (There is a big problem with littering here)  People will then treat Lima like a city that should be respected instead of one where everyone litters and sprays graffiti.  Once the mindset has changed (and that, I believe, is the goal), then daily garbage removal won’t be entirely necessary.  Right now it may be because without daily garbage removal trash bags will sit in the street for days (and get opened and searched for treasures), causing a stink and a mess.  However, if people are trained to wait for the garbage truck, it doesn’t need to come daily (budget cuts).

The parks, I think, help to present the image of a clean and beautiful Lima, although, as I am not a policy-maker, I’m not certain how I would rank the importance of parks and recreation with relation to, say, efficient transportation or clean drinking water.  I am pretty sure, however, that at the moment policy-makers are trying to get their citizens to think about Lima differently.


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