Sunday, May 05, 2013

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 these days 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?

10 comments:

Jeremy Noskin said...
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Jeremy Noskin said...

I was not originally aware of this housing proposal until I read this article, but I think it brings up a very interesting contrast with spring cleaning. This proposal would allow "affordable housing" to people that make significantly less than the median income of Winnetka. However, who are some of the people that would qualify for this housing plan? The same people that are driving by in their trucks to pick up items along the curb. Last year, when I was bringing some stuff to my curb, two guys pulled up as I was setting down the items. They were wearing raggedy clothes, had a beat-up truck, and looked very out of place.

I believe that this example displays how unrealistic the housing proposal is to some degree because it creates a larger barrier between classes. Many residents would not want the people that are sifting through their trash to be living near them due to a housing plan. So although spring cleaning is an event that helps both parties, it also creates a greater discrepancy between accepted social classes. It is difficult to reconcile these issues because many people are not accepting of those in a lower social class. As a result, this housing proposal will not receive enough support and spring cleaning only hurts the proposal. In today's society, people are against spending more money to let people with less money into the community. It's a battle between morals and power, and power always wins.

Aj Watkins said...

I see a connection between the worth of the goods we put on our curbs and the people the WHOA doesn't want to let in Winnetka. When spring cleaning rolls around, we put on our curb what we don't want and what we think is valueless. We don't put a new sofa out on the curb - we put out a torn up couch that is too beaten-up to belong in such a valuable household. Similarly, the people the WHOA doesn't want to let in are those who are monetarily worth less (the article indicates people who make $75,000 as opposed to the median income of $202,000). In other words, the connection between the two is based on monetary value.

Zach Peltz said...
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Derek Hawley said...

In my opinion, the reason so many Northshoreans choose the curbfest over the more traditional charity-giving methods Doc Oc mentioned is convenience. It's much simpler to drag stuff you don't want to the curb and let them come to you than to find out the collection days for Amvets and package things up in garbage bags for them. In addition, the curbhunters will often take things that organizations would not. I remember the year my neighbors replaced their couch: a large, rusty pickup truck showed up and hauled it off after duct-taping it into the back so it wouldn't fall out. In contrast, donating that couch would have required the neighbors to load it into their car, and drive it to a donation location. People (especially people who are used to getting things their way) tend to pick options that expend as little of their energy as possible.

Lily Schroeder said...

I think that the spring-cleaning is a way for us to dispose of unwanted trash and perhaps trash that we think is not of value anymore. It is also a time to get rid of larger, unwanted household items that would not be picked up on usual garbage days. This way we would not have to pay for an oversized item pickup. And as we see as a reoccurring theme, it always comes down to money.

Without doubt, when we put large items out for garbage day, we are essentially inviting others to come and pick what they want. We know it is unlikely that the good stuff will remain long enough to actually make it into the garbage truck. We expect garbage pickers to come around, maybe even with the hope that our things can be put to good use.

Perhaps low income housing in Winnetka poses a type of threat to many permanent residents there because they foresee the same folks who scavenge their left-overs moving in next door. Whereas they may not mind folks from differing socioeconomic backgrounds coming around to rifle through their unwanted goods once a year, having these same folks become their neighbors doesn’t sit very well. Do they really think that they may go to dinner next store to find their old sofa in the living room? Is that what is firing the controversy in Winnetka?

Christine Ryan said...

I agree that the source of both the "trash pickup week" and housing issue is money. Residents are happy to let others of a lower socio-economic status into their neighborhood during trash week because the people picking up the trash are saving the residents time and money. However, to allow the "trash picker-uppers" to live in winnetka would, as the homeowners associations said, "lower property values, attract criminals and force residents to subsidize those who rely on "hand-outs." All three of these things would lower the extremely high median income, and introduce markers of lower classes like cars, dress, and race.


I found it interesting that the homeowners association called the plan to introduce more affordable housing "un-American". I think that allowing people of relatively lower incomes live in such a high income area live Winnetka is very American, because it allows the rags-to-riches dream come true. By allowing people of lower social class live next to people of a high social class, the lower social class has a shot at assimilating into the upper class. Unfortunately, since what seems American lately is to make to rich richer and the poor poorer, I can see how creating affordable housing in Winnetka could be considered un-American today.

Hannah DePorter said...

Although there are definitley things that people leave out on the curb for "trash day" that are in pristine condition, there are also many things that are in no means suitable for people without a lot a repare. For example, we put our paddle boat on the curb for trash day because it had a huge crack in the bottom that would let water come in. Whoever took it will have to do some work for it to be in working condition. I say this because it would be great that these items be donated to charities, but some items are just in too bad of condition to be used without some major work. Some of these items are like "projects" for people that they want to fix and make good as new.

Molly Klare said...

I too think that this housing plan is a little unrealistic, mainly for the reason that Winnetka residents will never allow it. Winnetka residents allow people of lower socio-economic status to come in to pick up their trash because it is helping them; residents are saving time and money. However, while this is a cynical outlook, I think if it weren’t to their benefit homeowners in Winnetka would never want these people in their nieghborhood for any other reason. I believe that this is an issue between class in not just Winnetka, but many other places as well.

Today, on the news there was the story of Amanda Berry’s rescue. She was rescued and ran in to the arms of the man that broke down the door to get her out. This hero commented, “I knew somethin' was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Somethin' is WRONG here.” While he comments on the color of their skin, I believe he was really commenting on the class difference, not race. The man was of lower socio-economic status, and was surprised that this women was calling for him; he recognized that the only reason she would be calling was for help. I believe that this is how Winnetka residents feel, even if not willing to admit it outwardly; they are happy to let people with lower socio-economic status help them, but would not want them living near by.

Noah Quinn said...

Wednesday was trash day in Glencoe. While walking home from the library I noticed the opposite from Molly as it seemed to be a very awkward and unwelcoming experience for these sort of "treasure hunters." It was a beautiful day in Glencoe and many home owners were outside tending to their lush gardens, or supervising their children playing. I think this deterred people from taking from trash piles. Every time a pickup truck drove by and slowed down in front of one of the piles, as soon as they saw the home owners and their families, it seemed to me that they drove off. I wonder if they feel judged or unwelcome. With houses that didn't have people outside observing, I found many of the same trucks went right for the pile as if what they were doing was somehow wrong in our area and supposed to be secretive. It was uncomfortable to watch and I'm curious how the trash collectors feel about the situation.