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Time to Take Down the Decorations

January 1, 2009

When the floodwaters of the Tiber subsided in late December, left behind was graphic evidence of the depth the river had reached.  The trees alongside the river, submerged in polluted water for days, were left draped with plastic bags, bottles, shredded packaging materials, and other detritus of our throw-away culture. The resulting spectacle is one of the few conditions in Rome that is just plain depressing.

Some might see in this display a valuable message.  Non-biodegradable trash that is usually hidden from view in landfills to secretly intoxicate our land here hangs visible to all in all its ugliness, a glaring reminder of our wasteful society. Some might see it as a poetic, sublime statement about our condition.  OK, I can buy that.  Let’s take some pictures, and then clean it up and get to work on the rest of our problems.

There is a public service movement in the air in the days leading up to Obama’s inauguration next week.  Like so many phenomena in today’s networked world, it’s hard to say where it originated but it certainly didn’t just come from the top, although Obama’s “Renewing America Together” initiative is one of its bigger manifestations.  It can be seen in pledges being made to roll-up-the-sleeves and try to fix the world popping up everywhere.  I caught it in an email message from a friend in Boston’s North End where residents will be out sweeping the streets (“10 minutes with a broom”).  And this morning, I saw it in the Huffington Post editorial emphasizing that the inauguration is for all of us, not just the President, where Arianna quotes psychologist Dr. Ervin Staub, saying “Goodness, like evil, often begins in small steps.”

Well, I’m committing some time on the eve of the inauguration to take some small steps to clean the trash from the trees (and bike path) along the Tiber.   Monday morning 19 January 2009, 10-12 am the plan is to start along western banks of the river, below Ponte Sublicio at Porta Portese (see on google maps), with trash bags, gloves and poles for picking trash from the trees. Volunteers are welcome. It probably won’t be possible (or safe) to reach the upper branches, but we can at least harvest the “low lying fruit”.  Over the next week I will look into what’s needed in terms of authorization and perhaps assistance from AMA (Rome’s environmental agency), look for expertise from environmental organizations like Legambiente that have taken on and carried out such projects for years.  Please pass on to me any useful contacts or advice to make this possible and productive.  I’m creating a signup sheet on Facebook and (for non-facebookers on a Wufoo form. Check in here for updates).


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