Monday, May 02, 2011

White Trash

This image does not come from a post-Katrina Gulf-scape. No, it is instead a shot from the annual "spring cleaning" event on the Northshore.

Residents clean house and put their unwanted goods — especially large items that the garbage men might not take — on the street. Then huge numbers of people, driving ancient cars and flat bed trucks that you would never see at any other time of year in these parts troll the streets for goods.  (In Fitzgerald's terms, think of them as "Ash-gray men...stir[ring] up an impenetrable cloud, which [usually] screens their obscure operations from your sight"). One man's trash is another man's treasure, the saying goes, and the interlopers are either treasure seekers or garbage pickers, depending on who you talk to.

Some of my neighbors love this event. One told me that it was "the best kind of recycling" since the goods people leave out at the curbside are often used by other people. Then "why not donate those goods to a children's hospital or the Purple Hearts veterans?" another neighbor countered. "Those groups are always looking for donations."

Part of what's on display in this spectacle is the enormous disparity between the roaming trucks and the everyday residents. It's not just their cars that look different. Every other marker of social class we've discussed in class is also on display here:  clothing, noise, mannerisms, wealth, and race. 

The class disparity seems heightened to me this year given the contentious debate over affordable housing in Winnetka. Winnetka appears to open its doors — or its curbs! — to outsiders for one week each year.  Do you see a connection between the "spring cleaning"/trash removal and the housing issue?  Are the issues contradictory?  How do you reconcile them?

11 comments:

Miles T-G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miles T-G said...

I think we should pitch this phenomenon as a new show on History channel, etc.

But seriously, I find it funny that villagers of Winnetka can let the poor leech into their town for one week to collect their unwanted, but then deny them residency. More so, I find it predictable for the entitled civilians of the North Shore.

Last year, a referendum to renovate New Trier was shot down, mostly because township residents were unwilling to pay higher taxes. It'll be the same case if this housing issue goes to a vote. For some reason, the rich are unwilling to pay an extra fraction of a fraction of their income. Specifically addressing the article, it states that teachers and other civil servants would be the ones eligible for fair housing, so it's not like Winnetka would be shipping in bus loads of crack heads to live next door. Heck, maybe if the police live closer to the communities they work in, they wouldn't have such a contentious relationship with us adolescents. Additionally, perhaps they would lose the riot gear on the last day for seniors, just sayin'.

Overall, I see this housing prospect dead in the water. The majority of people of Winnetka and the North Shore just can't live to see another penny go. Whether they're old money or new money, it just ain't happenin', end of story.(I'd like to be wrong)

Jackie said...

I agree with Miles. I read the article about the debate over affordable housing and I laughed. In the article they say that some residents fear that affordable housing will attract criminals to live in this area and I find that extremely unrealistic. Like Miles said, it's not like there will be crack heads or ex-cons as new neighbors. If anything we would be giving make to people who had served our community, like those police officers or teachers or postmen.

I find the debate for affordable housing extremely hypocritical. We can't allow people with lower incomes to come live in our neighbors, but we can allow them to salvage our hand-me-downs and old junk?

Kristen O. said...

I agree with Jackie. I especially liked when she said "If anything we would be giving make to people who had served our community, like those police officers or teachers or postmen". Who are we to deny these people of affordable housing? If anything, it would add some much needed diversity to the North Shore.

Willy P said...

I agree that it's unfortunate that affordable housing might not be possible in Winnetka due to residents not wanting "criminals" in their area, however I'm not sure that its necessarily "hypocritical" that we "allow" people to take and recycle our apparent "junk."

People of lower incomes are welcome come to the suburbs anytime they please in order to enjoy our beautiful parks, beaches, or any other type of public facility. It's not like we only "allow" them to come to our towns when our "junk" is thrown out on the curb.

Like Mr. O'Connor said, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." I think that trash week should be celebrated because it exemplifies recycling in its purest form. It allows people to reuse what might normally have just gone to rot in the town dump.

Valerie Ceaser said...

I think this one week spring cleaning phenomena is a perfect example for the structure and attitude of our class system in America. The upper class tend to "rule the country" and are open to the lower class picking up their scraps(i.e lower jobs in the companies they own). Yet, oftentimes, when it comes to a little sacrifice for these poor they are apprehensive.
This can account for the irony we have all witnessed in the past week. The upper class doesn't mind that these lower class citizens are taking their trash and roaming their neighborhood because it doesn't not affect them. Everyone likes the idea of helping someone less fortunate out. However, if sacrificing must be done to help these people out, they won't do it.
I don't mean to rip on the upper class or the people of Winnetka. This is pretty much human nature. People like to help others, so much as they don't need to exert too much effort. But, when it comes to sacrificing precious time or money, many will resist.

Jonathan said...

I think that everyone here is bringing up very good points. However, I have to agree with Will here that it's not like people from lower-income areas aren't allowed to come to the North Shore. They don't for a specific reason, but it's not like they are denied access. And, as Valerie said, people enjoy giving to charity. This is simply a way for people to get rid of their junk and have it go to a good cause without taking up too much time out of their day. I also hope that the people who come out of their way to find things that they need don't see this as the only time that they are allowed in. I simply see this "cleaning" as a time when the higher class can give to the lower class, something that Valerie said always looks good. And even if it is just for "looking good", the people who come up to grab the stuff get something good out of it.

Sarah said...

I do see a connection between spring cleaning and the WHOA's (Winnetka Home Owners Association)strict definace of allowing less fortunate to live in our area. It seems somewhat out of place to see (as Doc OC says) "the ash men driving ancient cars and flat bed trucks," in the north shore, picking up what we call...junk. Kristen brings up a great point. Diversity is extremely needed in the northshore. It is wrong of us to encourage the lower classes to come take our hand-me-downs, and even use our public facilites, yet then say they can't live here? It is almost degrading like as if saying, you are only allowed to do certain things, not good enough for the rest.

Sure one mans trash is another mans treasure, but are these men equal? Are they in the same social class? Probably not. Less fortunate deserve better treatment from our Winnetka housing commitee.

David said...

I think that if the affordable housing debate ever goes to a vote, it will be shot down. The reason, as stated before, is that citizens don't want to pay more taxes. Who would want to pay more money to the government? And one thing I think is overlooked by most is that rich people didn't come to be rich by paying huge sums of money to organizations and the government. For this reason, even rich people with lots of money, want to keep track of their dollars so that they don't lose what they have worked hard for (or in the case of some in our book, inherited). Is wanting to try to save money necessarily a bad thing? While I agree that the affordable housing may be a benefit to the community, I also think that people should be able to chose for the most part, how much of their property they will part with.

Miles T-G said...

Dave, if people could choose the percentage of their property that they could "part with" everyone would chose null. I was watching O'Reilly a few weeks ago and Dennis Miller said that his taxes were 49 percent of his income. Whether that's factual or not, that seems steep to me. However, taxes are part of living in a country like ours. They won't go away.

The real problem here is that voters are not informed enough on the people/referendums they're voting for. All too often voters only absorb the roadside signs and shocking claims like those made by the WHOA.

You guys can't vote yet, but when you are able to, I encourage you all to pick up your local paper and read about the candidates/issues on your own, so you can formulate your OWN opinions. Don't fall into the dangerous trend of our generation's and just blindly accept your parents political values.

Chloe said...

While I see what Willy is saying about this being "recycling in its purest form" it is crazy what some people in the north shore label as "junk". People put out things that are in perfect working condition, like an old couch or a working microwave or vacuum cleaner. Often these things are spoiled because if the way that they are carelessly thrown into the elements. One good rain and all of the furniture is shot.

I think that it is wierd for people to get rid of this stuff in the first place, but if they want to "donate" it to people there are other better ways to do it. My family belongs to a website called FreeCycle where people post what they are giving away and someone else posts that they would like it and the two arrange a pick up. I think this is a much better form of recycling than the annual dump-it-all-to-the-curb that we have in Wilmette.