San Francisco: The Dirty City

Dec 13, 2021

I recently came back from Washington D.C.. It had been over ten years since I was last there and my first impression was, “Wow! This city is SO clean!” I would walk block after block and see no trash, no graffiti, practically no gum on the sidewalks– and definitely no feces. Not only was there no litter, but a number of streets had public flower beds actually planted with real flowers! To anyone outside of San Francisco, I’m sure I sound a little crazy to expect nothing less of a major city. But unfortunately for San Francisco residents, clean streets is far from our reality.

Over the last few years, I have visited cities like Chicago, Boston and New York – all with clean streets. Interestingly enough, whenever I told locals how clean their streets were, almost always I’d hear the response “Really? We think it’s super dirty.” My response was always, “Come to San Francisco and I will show you a dirty city.” They also tell me that their downtowns may be clean, but when you visit their other neighborhoods, it’s a different story.

There are lots of reasons why San Francisco is dirty– of course, homeliness is definitely a big reason. I’d say more so than any other major city. Some even say it’s the wind. However, even cities like the Windy City and East Coast cities dealing with extreme weather do not seem to have a litter issue.

San Francisco is in the midst of one of the best economic booms in its history, yet we can’t keep our city clean. Mayor Breed has initiated more cleanup programs that are helping, but it is simply not enough.

As a native to this city, it saddens me to see old San Francisco movies that once showed our streets clean with flower pots blooming. My mother would say that in the 1950’s, “You could eat off of our streets.”

So, what can we do about it?

1. Recognize: We need to recognize that this problem is bigger than our local government can solve. Litter and cleanliness needs to start with a campaign that focuses all of our attention.

2. Take Action: As residents of San Francisco, we need to all chip in and clean our city. We need to make sure our trash bins are able to close so trash doesn’t blow everywhere from the wind. We can plant more greens to help clean our air and beautify our streets, as business owners and homeowners, we can sweep, and power wash our sidewalks. And of course, we can commit to never littering. Every morning, I walk up Powell Street and see hundreds of people walking by garbage on the street. I try to pick up one piece of paper every day to help out. But, what if hundreds of people picked up just one piece of paper in the city? Do you think this would help. Do you think this would begin a movement to make people more aware of their surroundings and inspire them to help out too?

3. Make a Campaign: Back in the 1960’s there was a campaign across the country called “Keep America Beautiful.” The campaign strived to end littering, improve recycling and beautify America’s communities. It featured an Indian with a tear in his eye and the message was “Get Involved Now. Pollution hurts all of us.” It was regarded as the most famous tear in American history, and the campaign worked. I strongly urge San Francisco officials to create its own anti-litter campaign and promote all of us to help keep our city clean. This program could include a similar message as in the 1960’s. We could begin by putting signs up “Don’t litter” or “Pick up a piece of paper for your city.”

It’s very easy to complain about our cleanliness. It’s also easy to blame government. Now is the time for our government to create a campaign asking for all of us to help out. In the meantime, we can commit as citizens to not be part of the problem, but part of the solution and help clean our city where we can.

Written by: Hans Hansson

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Hans Hansson is President of Starboard Commercial Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email [email protected] or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website,