Monday, January 26, 2009

Chicago: The Olympic City That So Loves its Trash it Puts it on Display

Most people see garbage - paper, Styrofoam, plastic bottles, rotting peels and worse drizzled with rivulets of exotically colored sauce of unknown origin - as refuse. The bureaucrats at the CTA see it as high art.

That's the only possible explanation for their inexplicable move to collect the garbage at the agency's subway stations in painfully clear plastic bags. I can't believe it's been over three years since I first wrote about the bags popping up along the blue line. Naively, I believed that this idea was so appallingly bad that it would be immediately apparent to anyone still emitting brain waves, and would be quickly remedied.

But there's no underestimating the bureaucratic brain, and the deployment of clear bags actually appears to be expanding, mucking up even the brightest of stations. Could anyone explain to me what the point is? And please don't say it's a security measure. What easier way to conceal a destructive device than in a discarded newspaper? How can it be a security measure when traditional closed receptacles still stand only yards away?
How impressed Olympic officials must be when they tour Chicago's subways. Joseph Cornell would be green with envy (or maybe just from nausea). How perfectly the found objects in an overstuffed clear plastic garbage bag express Chicago's consumerist, commuterish angst, especially when hanging from a column rotting with dribbling rust. World class all the way.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of their motivations is probably public safety. Post-9/11, it's harder to hide a bomb in a see-through bag.

Eric Frost said...

I don't buy the public safety idea.. as Lynn mentioned you could just put the bomb in a newspaper or something. Anyway, I hadn't noticed the clear plastic bags yet.. I'll keep an eye out and look for any gross stuff!
Eric
Windy City Chat

Isaac said...

The only positive I've noticed is that the existing garbage cans tended to become kind of disgusting with moisture from the waste that never really had a chance to dry out. At least this allows them to kind of dry out, instead of being perpetually swampy like their predecessors.

I'm not saying it is enough, but it is one positive.

Lynn Becker said...

Do they need to be clear to be able to dry out?

mig said...

i like the idea of our waste expressed. it's something we should be ashamed of and this is one way to remind us of just how much we waste. honesty like this is what we need, not a basket with ornament denying our actions.

Isaac said...

Ahh that is good point, so how would you feel if the bags were hung in the same fashion, but were opaque instead of transparent?

The drying out I'm refering to is outside the bags, not inside them. The bottoms of those existing bins was disgusting.

Marc Couillais said...

I think Mig hit this one on the head. Perhaps the intent is to make us all conscious of what we are disposing of , so the next time your about to throw away a Starbucks cup, you'll realize just exactly what you are contributing to. After all, using less starts with a consumer asking for less, bringing their own coffee mug in essence.

My bet is that it's a social consciousness exercise, at least that's how I'm going to look at it.

Lynn Becker said...

With all due respect, what are you smoking? This is an administration that almost breaks its arm patting itself on the back. If this was truly intended as a "social consciousness exercise", there would be PR up the wazoo promoting it.

What's amazing to me is how subservient we've all become. We'll imagine every scenario in the world rather than entertain the idea that the city/CTA has made another bonehead play.

If "social consciousness" is the true aim, why just expose/punish the CTA passengers? Why not Metra? Why not replace EVERY downtown trash can with a clear ring and a hanging plastic bag? Why not mandate see-through dumpsters, or at least transparent garbage containers behind every house? That'll teach us, for sure.

scrodnals said...

I had been wondering about the switch to these bags. Maybe it helps people notice the trash receptacles so that people will actually use them rather than just leaving their trash on the platform or on the train. Then again, people who do that usually just do it because they don't give a crap, not because they can't find a trash can...

David said...

It's the same garbage system used on the streets of Paris.

Only there they replace the bags on a fairly rigorous schedule.

Lynn Becker said...

I've been looking for some coverage of the Paris bags but I'm coming up short. Can you provide some more info?

mig said...

i think the cta just did it because those containers cost next to nothing, which is why there's no pr campaign, but it's also an accidental success, at least in the terms i expressed before. maybe you're right, in the future, we should use more clear containers, although using just bags outdoors may just be an invitation to some rodents.

Anonymous said...

It's for the homeless so they don't have to rummage through bins that don't have cans in it.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the idea of being forced to see how much disgusting trash we leave behind every day. But that's no excuse for the other parts of most El station looking like total dumps. That rusty pillar in Lynn's photo is only the beginning.

dyagnyl said...

They have the same thing at the Tube in London. The only thing I can say, is that its for security. And for those who dont think its for security what do you think its for? A conspiracy? I know it sounds silly, but security isnt pretty, neither is war. What they need to do is just take out the trash more! Its as simple as that.

What I want to know is if they have a Garbage Train system. I think that would be great if they added a small car on the back in which trash could be added so it cleans as it goes. It doesn't have to be every time, it could even be only put on say like 4-5 trains a day per line at non busy times. They can have a small recycling/garbage place at the end of the line. I dont know its just a start for an idea.

I saw a really cool garbage can in Amsterdam which was like an iceberg. A small trash can on street level, but underground a large 10' by 10' crate under that holds tons of trash, a giant truck comes by and just simply lifts the entire set up over the truck and empties it.

Lynn Becker said...

This is the most depressing thread I've ever encountered. Does no one think anymore? Have we all been lobotomized by Dick Cheney?

"It's for security. War's not pretty" Neither is idiocy.

If I'm a terrorist, how does this stop me when I can wrap a bomb in newspaper or a McDonald's bag, or simply dump it in a regular trash bin less than ten feet away? If it's so important for security, why are they not at every Metra station, every trash receptacle at O'Hare and Midway, every parking garage, every theatre, throughout Millenniium Park - indeed, any place where large numbers of people gather or pass through?

Or is it that only the appearance of security matters, no matter how pathetic?

Dan said...

It looks like I've been beaten to it, but I was going to say I'm quite sure I saw the same system in Parisa couple years ago. I don't know exactly what the idea is. "Security" did not occur to me. I assumed it was something to do with the bag-only system being more efficient to manage in some way?

scrodnals said...

I agree Lynn. The terrorists could just strap the bombs to themselves (as is often the case), put them in the adjacent encosed trash barrels or just toss something onto the tracks etc. Even if someone did put a bomb in the clear garbage bag, would anyone really notice? I doubt it would have a big digital countdown clock and a bunch of different colored wires like in a MacGyver episode.

dyagnyl said...

I think its just as stupid and ugly as everyone else, I was just letting people know what the reasoning was because many couldnt fathom the idea. Dont by any way call me a result of Dick Cheney! Hahahha.

Lynn Becker said...

My apologies for the rank insult. I was upset - not very upset - you've never seen me VERY upset - but upset.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Lynne,

Here is a random web photo of a Paris garbage station.

http://tinyurl.com/dxxzpc

Anonymous said...

David - Thanks for the pic from Paris. In the context of a clean street, I don't think it looks so wretched. It's only in the context of our decrepit and embarrassing el stations that they are so horrible.

Lynn Becker said...

David,

thanks for the pic.

The Champs-Elysées, the Parisian sunlight, a beautiful young woman. . . it almost convinces me, but not quite. To me, garbage is garbage, and it should no more be an object of common display than our own bodily refuse.

That being said, execution is all. Compare the Paris receptacles - small bags, sparingly filled, hanging airily from a lightweight, spring green frame - to Chicago's - collars the color of dried urine cheaply clamped to rusting columns, bloated bags often crammed to bursting, their bottom herniating out across the floor like a beer belly no belt can contain.

In Paris, somehow even the trash looks colorful and elegant. In Chicago's subways, it's just squalid. To me, it makes a grungy station look even more derelict, and lends a jarring note of decay to the bright freshness of those recently renovated.

mig said...

well, that, no one can disagree with. but don't blame the good container design for the unfortunate atmosphere and maintenance it's been plopped in. surely more care should be given to trash and as someone mentioned before, the further introduction of recycling bins would be progress.

Isaac said...

Hey, I'm all for these garbage receptacles if it means we can get Tom Cruise quotes out of you Lynn. What outrageous thing do I have to suggest to get you to tell me I can't handle the truth?

Let us just pile the garbage onto the tracks and let the trains gently whisk it away into the endless tunnels beyond. Surely we can all agree that would be an ingenious solution, no?

Marc Couillais said...

Ok, look in the trashbag, and you'll see, nearly all of that crap could have been recycled, or not even brought into existence in the first place. Yes, a recycling bin would be awesome but honestly I think this will have some psychological effect on those who use these whether that was the initial motive or not. I agree, they may have been put into play for a plethora of reasons (security, efficiency, etc.) but that doesn't mean it won't have other effects. I think it's time people start thinking about the effect they have on the world and our disposable lifestyles. This is one way to do it, again, whether it was intended or not.

mig said...

talking about cleanliness of trains and tracks, check this greening out:

http://tinyurl.com/boqkfo

Anonymous said...

Lynn,

Nobody is saying clear bags make it IMPOSSIBLE to leave a bomb-only that they make it more difficult and therefore LESS LIKELY. No counterterrorism measure is 100% foolproof, old chap.

Lynn Becker said...

Sorry, being forced to hide a bomb in a MacDonald's bag or having to bypass the plastic trash entirely and drop a device into a metal container just yards away only qualifies as an obstacle if you happen to be the laziest terrorist in the history of the world.

Spudart said...

these bags make me want to place some sort of art inside of the bags.