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Council member wants to 'hack' Cincinnati's litter problem with your ideas

Litter in the Lower Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati.
Becca Costello
Litter in the Lower Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati officials are looking to residents to find new solutions to litter. Council member Liz Keating hosted a public forum in the West End Monday night.

"We have been doing the same thing for decades and decades and decades, and nothing is changing," Keating said. "It's time to rethink this; it's time to come up with new solutions. And this feedback from the community is a critical piece in that to be able to come up with new ideas."

About 40 residents attended the forum and nearly every person asked a question or submitted a comment in writing.

"Let's be real, most of the dumping happens from people outside that throw it out of their car," said Alexis Kidd Zaffer, who lives in Bond Hill and works in the West End. "It's not the people that live here that do it, but it affects us and so we want to make sure that we are part of that change, and we can be one of those strong communities that doesn't allow it to happen."

Kidd Zaffer is executive director of Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, a community development corporation in the West End. She says trash isn't the only problem in her neighborhood — she's worried about the missing street canopy along the highway.

"There were improvements made and they cut down trees," she said. "But with the removal of trees in our neighborhood, we know that the pollution comes down, the heat levels are increased. It just really has an ill effect on our neighborhood."

Douglas Springs of the West End told officials the city has allowed the problem to get worse, especially in low-income and Black neighborhoods. He had a suggestion for a short-term solution:

"Take some of that money they got from the federal government and do jobs, or summer jobs, for the youth and have them cleaning up. That would teach them some responsibility, plus it cuts down on the crime."

The city's department of public services has 18 people on a neighborhood litter team. The street sweeping team is made of up 10 people and five actual sweepers; illegal dumping is a team of four that picks up large items like mattresses and couches. Lastly, one DPS employee is dedicated to picking up dumped tires. Officials say it's tough to keep up with litter even when volunteers pitch in.

Keating will host another event in a couple weeks: a litter hack-a-thon. The event invites teams of residents to spend a weekend developing a pitch for solving the litter problem. Keating says the forum helped define the problem and now it's time to take it to the community.

"We drew that sandbox, and now play within that sandbox and help us come up with new solutions," she said. "Our goal is to create more synergies between the community and local government and start solving problems together."

The winning ideas could become part of the city's approach.

The hack-a-thon takes place over a weekend, starting with a kickoff at Union Hall on April 6 at 9 a.m. It concludes with a pitch session at Union Hall from 9-12 p.m. on April 8. Learn more and register to participate at

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.