If you have ever left the picture-perfect Oval on Ohio State’s campus and crossed North High Street, you are probably no stranger to the stark difference of surroundings — more specifically, the amount of broken glass, smashed cups, food wrappers and endless other trash items littered through out the area.
As a proud resident of the off-campus community, I have had my fair share of run-ins with flat tires, shoes embedded with broken glass and sidewalks obstructed by empty cardboard beer cases.
When I first moved to the off-campus community nearly a year ago, I tried my best to be optimistic about these less-than-perfect surroundings. I told myself, “Excess litter and unkempt properties are just a consequence of living in an urban environment.”
After nearly a year of trying to ignore the litter, I came to the realization that the unnecessary amount of filth in the off-campus area is not a result of “living in an urban environment” because the students who inhabit the off-campus community know how to throw away their trash when on campus. The litter is a result of students’ disregard for their off-campus community.
I am well aware that it is socially acceptable for collegiate students to throw beer cans and red Solo cups on their front lawns in hopes that the less fortunate will collect the trash for profit after a night of partying. I am also aware that this norm is hurting others who share the off-campus community.
The Rev. Sydney Jackson of The Indianola Presbyterian Church, which is located in the heart of the off-campus community at the corner of Waldeck and Iuka avenues, said volunteers from his church work daily to clean up litter from students around church property.
Jackson said litter such as broken glass and empty beer cans are major problems in the church parking lot and near areas where children play.
“We have a preschool here, so it’s important to get, especially broken glass, off the sidewalks because the kids go out and play in the yard,” Jackson said. “I kind of wonder sometimes about people who throw things where little kids are going to be.”
Jackson also said church volunteers work to clean up tipped garbage cans and recycling bins in the neighborhood.
“It’s one of those things where we wish people were a little better at taking care of the neighborhood,” Jackson said. “It’s mystifying sometimes why anybody would tip over garbage bins regularly or the blue recycling bins. It’s just awful.”
Jackson said Ed Kinschner, a church member since 1963, takes it upon himself to pick up litter around the church almost every day.
“Ed picks up stuff everywhere. When you walk with him, by the time you get over to High Street, he’ll have two hands of stuff he’s picked up,” Jackson said. “He just does it — it’s who he is.”
Kinschner said his efforts to pick up litter are more than making the area look nice, they are about making sure the area is safe for children and drivers.
“Think about the children and the way that we care for other people,” Kinschner said. “The church’s issue is being a good neighbor in our community. Being in a community is a two-way street. That’s what a neighborhood is all about — trying to look out for each other.”
Kinschner said the main way the church’s neighbors can demonstrate that they care about the church children and the community is to not break bottles near the church property, where children play and cars drive.
“It’s a good effort and it makes a better place for us all to live,” Kinschner said.
Like Kinschner, I agree that the off-campus area would be a better place to live if community members, including students, made a larger effort to mitigate littering.
As a concerned resident of the off-campus community, I asked folks from The Office of Student Life and the OSU Community Ambassadors why litter is such an issue in the off-campus neighborhoods and what students can do through the university to better the area.
“The key to preventing litter is for people to be involved in their community, for people to take pride in their neighborhood — to know their neighbors so that when they see something, they know that it also impacts them,” Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said.
Students can start to build this sense of community through the Community Ambassadors, Isaacs said.
The Community Ambassadors are a group of students who individually represent an off-campus street, co-director of the Community Ambassadors, Hannah Mlnarik, said. They act as a bridge between the university and the off-campus community, helping students to become engaged in their neighborhoods as community members, through cookouts and other events.
This community engagement is the key to keeping the off-campus neighborhoods clean, Mlnarik said, because it helps students living off-campus develop pride for where they live.
“Because people come and go so frequently in the university district, there often isn’t a sense of pride in the community — a personal responsibility — because people don’t live there for more than a year or so,” Mlnarik said.
OSU’s Undergraduate Student Government also offers opportunities for students to help maintain the off-campus area, including the initiative, “Clean Up Columbus.”
“Clean Up Columbus” is an initiative that partners with “Keep Columbus Beautiful,” a Columbus Department of Public Service program, and offers money to student organizations that clean sections of off-campus streets, USG President Taylor Stepp said.
Student organizations can sign up for this initiative, which pays $75 for the clean up of one side of an off-campus street on the first Sunday of every month, on the USG website, according to Michelle Bennett, department director for the USG student affairs cabinet committee.
Representatives from “Keep Columbus Beautiful” did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Students do not have to be involved in a campus initiative to help keep their off-campus community clean. Simply throw your trash and recyclables in their proper containers.
By doing so, you are not only helping to keep the off-campus area clean and safe, you are showing respect for people like Ed Kinschner, who work selflessly to ensure the best environment for children and other community members, including us students.