The Clean Team of Pittsburgh

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From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette afternoon e-edition, Wednesday, March 21, 2012, Page 2: Downtown
Kaitlynn Riely (story)
Larry Roberts (photo)
The Pittsburgh Press

When there are millions of pounds of trash to pick up and miles of sidewalks to power wash, Pittsburgh calls on the guys and gal of… The Clean Team

It is Curtis Pinkney’s job to keep the streets and sidewalks of Downtown clean. But in the 15 years he has worked as a member of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Clean Team, there’s been a lot more to it.

In his bright yellow shirt and jacket, he helps people find their bus stop. He gives out bus schedules. He provides directions. He welcomes people to Pittsburgh. Sometimes, if a person seems down, he hands out a hug.

“It’s a full-service job,” said Mr. Pinkney, 52. “The list goes on and on.”

Mr. Pinkney is one of nine Clean Team members – eight men and one woman – who keep the city clean year-round by removing trash from sidewalks, emptying trash receptacles to be picked up by the Department of Public Works and removing graffiti.

The Downtown Partnership’s cleaning initiative, which started in 1994, is based on the broken windows theory – the idea that fixing issues when they are small will prevent problems from escalating.

“When you see trash on the ground and broken bottles, it’s going to have a subconscious effect on how you see that area,” said Riley Baker, 31, director of volunteer services for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Unclean streets can make people feel unsafe and uncomfortable – the opposite of what the city wants people to feel when they work, live or visit Downtown.

And so people such as Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Baker – as well as a growing number of volunteers including Downtown residents, school groups and youth groups – walk the Downtown streets, picking up the trash left behind.

And there’s a lot of it. In 2011, the Clean Team spent 31,345 hours removing 1.1 million pounds of trash and 4,677 graffiti tags. They power-washed 26.3 miles of sidewalks, renovated 30 trash cans, and installed 150 cigarette urns.

This year alone, the affiliated volunteers have logged more than 300 hours of work.

But the people who clean Downtown are not just removing things from the streets. They are also adding to the Downtown experience, Mr. Baker said.

The Clean Team employees are ambassadors for the city, Mr. Baker said, and “representatives of what it means to be a Downtowner.”

Each Clean Team member is trained in CPR and basic first aid. Soon, Clean Team members will undergo bomb squad training, an initiative Mr. Baker suggested since Clean Team members frequently come across abandoned bags and packages.

Being a member of the Clean Team can be a challenge in the cold winter months. It’s a lot nicer on spring days that feel like summer, said John Marshall who has worked on the Clean Team for five years.

“Summer is a breeze,” he said. “Winter, no matter how many clothes you put on, you’re still going to freeze.”

But warm weather often means more people on the street, and that usually means more trash. During warm months, the Clean Team hires another handful of people to help. Usually, the biggest days for the Clean Team are after Light Up Night and after the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Yet this past weekend, when tens of thousands of people turned out for an unusually warm St. Patrick’s Day Parade, produced the largest single output of trash Mr. Baker has seen in his two years working for the Partnership.

Part of keeping Downtown clean includes encouraging people not to litter, and later this spring, the Clean Team will begin a new “Caught Doing Good” campaign. Clean Team members will thank people they see picking up trash or doing something else to keep Downtown clean. The do-gooder will receive a card for a free beverage at a Downtown venue.

Downtown wasn’t completely devoid of trash Tuesday, but Mr. Pinkney thinks it’s a lot cleaner than it was in 1997, when he started working with the Clean Team.

People use the trash cans and sometimes, he sees people picking up trash that is on the ground.

He has a simple request for the people who walk through his workplace, the streets of Downtown: “Take pride in this city.”