6 December 2006: Cleaning Up Junk

Home shouldn’t be where the junk is

Before moving to Georgetown, I once lived in a dreadful place I not-so-affectionately call Saudi Aurora, a sprawling expanse that has “developed”—love the irony of that term—into a sea of strip malls and ticky-tacky, cookie-cutter houses devoid of unique personality, the fourth in a row looking eerily like the one three doors to its left or right, tied together with six-lane boulevards, bustling with scurrying folks, helter-skelter going nowhere.

A hundred or so miles west sits Breckenridge with cutesy but sterile storefronts and upscale, picture-perfect dwellings that serve well for tourists seeking plasticity not authenticity.

Opposite of the “Breck look,” strewn across the American landscape, is a different look one might describe as preternaturally Arkantucky—properties featuring rusted vehicles and assorted junk seeking to be recycled or buried for eternal rest in a landfill.

Of late, Georgetown, along with Idaho Spring, is struggling to identify its persona—the image the community wants to project. It is a bare-knuckle fight between those who insist their property rights are being imposed on and those who raised their children to clean up their messes.

A few months back, several longtime residents dared to tread where angels fear. They formed Georgetown Pride, a committee dedicated to sprucing up the town. Treading where angels fear may seem like an overstatement, but a walk through town gives evidence that there are plenty of folks who not only don’t mind the fact their property’s junk might challenge the Transfer Station for bragging rights, but are also proud of it.

Rusted cars, building materials, inoperable golf carts and snowmobiles lay in public view as if for the owner to brag, “See, what I’ve accomplished in my life!” In Idaho Springs, such an outcry arose from the proud possessors of junk, the city council meekly compromised on a nellie policy that requires such proud owners to simply cover their junk. Perhaps, the town ought to rename itself “Tarptown.”

Junk is an eyesore as well as a health issue for people and the environment. A short stroll from my house is what I not-so-affectionately refer to as a pre-owned car lot—classic vehicles, probably beyond any restoration, sadly allowed to rust back into the earth. With that rusting comes another cost: leaked oil, anti-freeze, and other hazardous fluids seeping into the ground, perhaps creating an EPA superfund site.

At the other end of the spectrum are voices who advocate “cutesifying” Georgetown, mimicking and projecting the affluence of our genteel neighbors to the west. That reminds me of Ben Rumson in “Paint Your Wagon”—played by Lee Marvin—fearing what would come to No Name City when the farmers and other settlers moved in: “museums, clapboard houses, schools and churches.” In reality Rumson offers a satirical and ironic look at the “developing” nameless and faceless community that will replace No Name City, one in which everything looks the same and everyone thinks and acts the same—like Highlands Ranch.

The owners and displayers of personal junk try to justify their position by arguing private property rights. That’s a canard. A free society is dependent upon a citizenry willing to compromise and reach consensus when it comes to conflicting rights. Otherwise, it will all fall apart.

Cleaning up and taking care of one’s place is about protecting others’ rights—not to live near or look at a localized version of a landfill, or to face threats to one’s health and to the environment. Taking care of one’s place is no different than taking care of one’s body by maintaining a regular exercise regimen and a healthy diet. How one keeps his/her place is a projection of his/her self. Thus, it’s more than about respect for one’s neighbors—it’s about respect for one’s self.

What is needed in Georgetown is a vision—a comprehensive master plan of what the town will look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years. Junk and unkempt yards are but two of the items that need to be addressed in a formal manner. There has been talk about revisiting the roads issue as well as about creating a comprehensive trash pick up and recycling center, all worthy and noble goals.

The idea of a Clear Creek version of Saudi Aurora, Breckenridge, or Highlands Ranch is as dreadful now as it was then. So, too, is a Clear Creek version of Arkantucky. Somewhere between lies the Clear Creek ideal—admittedly never realized, but always a goal to be striven for.

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