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Anti-Littering Efforts Are Ramping Up on H Street

It’s a puzzle.

On one side is the whole world, endlessly intricate with its oceans, land masses and inhabitants. Fitting the grooves of one unique multicolored piece into another seems almost impossible. But on the other side is just one man, and when he is put together, so is the world opposite.

This is the story Anwar Saleem tells when he talks about cleaning up H Street. The original puzzle was a present from his grandfather; now, as chairman of the nonprofit H Street Main Street, he refers to the puzzle as a lesson that embodies how his organization looks at the revitalization of the H Street corridor in Northeast Washington, D.C.

“If you can reach out to that one business, that one man, that one woman, H Street will develop a whole lot quicker,” he said.

But Saleem’s organization has had trouble tackling the litter problem in the area. Efforts began with encouraging residents to clean up the area on Saturdays, got tied up with an idea to tax businesses for various services and then moved to finding funding from the city. Now, more than a year later, the corridor still isn’t up to some residents’ expectations.

That caught the attention of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alan Kimber, who represents part of the corridor. So he began exactly the sort of grass-roots strategy Saleem supports — one man trying to change the outlook of other men, women and businesses. To gather momentum for cleaning up litter on his stretch of H Street — roughly between Second and Seventh streets Northeast — Kimber designed a poster, printed copies at home and soon will ask businesses to place them in their windows. The motto is simple: Stop Litter. On the rectangular poster, the “stop” and “it” are highlighted.

“It’s not a fix in and of itself,” Kimber said. “It’s kind of raising awareness of what needs to be a comprehensive approach of enforcement.”

Kimber said his effort is beginning at an opportune time. H Street Main Street, Saleem said, has secured a $100,000 grant from the District Department of Transportation and a promised $30,000 from businesses for a long-awaited Clean and Safe Program. Such a program unsuccessfully has been attempted previously, but Saleem said he is confident that the lessons of the past year finally have culminated into a working strategy.

“The effort is great right now,” he said. “I think good momentum is taking place.”

But appealing to individuals to keep a commercial corridor such as H Street litter-free is more difficult than doing the same for residential areas, said Scott Pomeroy, the interim board chairman of Keep Washington, D.C. Beautiful, an organization that helps smaller groups with resources and promotion. Kimber has kept in touch with Pomeroy about his efforts to keep litter off H Street — a difficult task, Pomeroy said.

“It’s essential, but it’s also not a quick fix. It’s working with schools. It’s working with employers. It really is a mind-set to not litter, but that again is much easier to do from a residential standpoint,” Pomeroy said. “When you get to a commercial district, it is a place that is everybody’s, so it’s like the public park.”

While residential areas see little foot traffic and are made up of people with a sense of ownership, commercial districts are overrun by constant visitors and are seen as more of a communal area, he said. And so the real solution is to have a continuous cleanup, which includes funding, workers and city cooperation.

Kimber and Saleem agree. But while residents might not feel the same way about a commercial street as their own backyard, Saleem said he has noticed that revitalization efforts have begun to make residents look at the once-blighted street differently.

“They can feel the energy and feel the change that’s taking place,” he said.

Kimber is taking that one step forward, by encouraging discussion on his blog — — and raising awareness through his small publicity effort.

But it’s just one piece of a larger chain: As businesses become more successful, they want to keep the streets clean, which brings in more visitors, which in turn brings in more money. And all of that can make a difference for the entire city, by providing places for former offenders to work, educating the public on how to take care of city landscaping and fostering economic development, Pomeroy said.

For H Street, it’s just a matter of weaving it all together. But that all begins with efforts like Kimber’s, Saleem said.

“In order to change things, you have to get out here. You have to work,” Saleem said “You really have to get out and make a difference.”

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