Gum: The Sticky Enemy of Revival in D.C., Where “Clean Equals Safe”


Walk north out of downtown Washington and something unsavory happens underfoot. Black splotches, some nearly as old as the cracked sidewalks themselves, appear denser and denser with each passing step.

You have crossed the Gum Line, reports the Washington Post.

On one side, aggressive and well-funded business groups keep the sidewalks scoured using the latest equipment, with the stated goal of making them as spotless as Disney World’s. On the other, an overburdened city government throws up its hands at the seeming impossibility of taking on yet another task.

“People shouldn’t spit gum on sidewalks,” said D.C. Public Works Director Leslie Hotaling. “I wish people would just keep it in their damn mouths.”

The problem is more than aesthetic. Washington’s renaissance under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has been powerful but uneven, say residents, community activists and merchants.

They contend that cleanliness equals safety in the minds of visitors, and that old gum — along with graffiti and window bars — subtly dissuades shoppers, tourists and even potential residents and commercial investors. The gum, in other words, hinders the improvement of neighborhoods, slowing the revival even of ones that are seeing major new investment.


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