Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What's With All The Rats?

The city of Boston reports the Brighton/Allston area to mostly house residents whose ages span from 18 to 40 years old, and the mass majority of that are 18 to 24 year olds. That is to say, it is widely populated by students, and an age range that dictates a rather insular lifestyle. There are fewer families; Allston is an area designated for people in transitional periods of their lives. As a resident of the area, I can say that Allston often feels like a miniature city of its own, replete with dive bars, relatively inexpensive cuisine and a plethora of cafes. It boasts an attitude that suggests it is largely represented by its younger residents. And for all that one would like to say about the younger generations, we are not a bizarrely unsanitary one. So, what provokes the rat problem?

Yes, the rat problem. Allston is frequented by a malaise of rats whose high numbers and delayed stay in the area has caused them to break loose of the skulking, secretive behavior as typified by these frightening pests. They are also bulky, large enough to be mistaken for a stray cat (an error that I have encountered in the past year). On my daily commute to any host of buses or trains, I am constantly accosted not just by the sight of them darting through the shadows, but streaking out in broad daylight to scamper underneath mine or a neighbor’s porch, or crouch underneath a car and glower, or simply to interrupt my drowsy trek to whatever the day’s destination may be. Regardless of what city authorities may say, there is a rat problem. If I dialed the hotline provided to me for reporting sightings of rats each time I saw one, it would be on my speed-dial. And I would go so far as to suggest that it is not nearly as perplexing as local diatribe indicates.

Ultimately, the cause of the problem is solely pointed to us, the residents. The guiding finger in these accusations come at the indignation of Harvard University representatives, whose recent uprooting and subsequent abandonment of nearby demolition sites in the last three years seems likely to be what prompted the rats’ nefarious rise and occupation of the streets. Despite these allegations, Harvard insists that they maintained a clean construction site, wary of the likelihood that excavation of big, gaping holes in the ground could very well cause a rat infestation. Such factors point so conspicuously at the Ivy League school, but it is in their determination to deflect the blame elsewhere that is truly infuriating. What’s more opportune than a place whose neighboring town (Brighton) posts sundry signs that caution “KEEP BRIGHTON BEAUTIFUL: DON’T LITTER” but in Allston, who borders the town and shares most of its local endeavors in policy, there are signs that say “KEEP ALLSTON DECENT: DON’T LITTER”. It is so remarkably convenient for Harvard to point out that we have poor sanitation and refuse removal. To a degree, this is unfortunately true.

I can vouch for this: Harvard did in fact donate 200 trash-bins to Lower Allston featuring lids that, when closed, disguised both the smell and appearance of trash, and without the trash it was assumed the rats would vacate to more profitable grounds (I'm not sure exactly where they are thinking of, either). They did in fact do this of their own goodwill and nothing to do with insidious guilt at the ruckus they have caused in rodent control. They are simply of a pious and generous persuasion... of course. Cambridge also, in the last five years, dealt with a rat problem. Unsurprisingly, it was quickly and sufficiently remedied, while Allston's pest problem continues. So with Harvard's efforts in mind, there are other issues to tackle.

We need an influx of trash barrels on the street, not just between people's houses. We need more reliable sanitation crews. Recent government funding changes has reduced most of our federal services to skeletal reminisces of what once was. My house, for example, nearly comes right to the curb of our street, and one holiday week, we mixed up which day to leave our trash at the curb for collection. Our bins lie in plain, visible sight hardly five feet from their designated area. In a home that hosts 7 occupants besides myself, we accumulate a large mass of weekly trash. But the trashmen simply plowed past. On one hand, we did not demonstrate good samitarianism. On the other hand, it’s really not that difficult to be kind when the difference is five feet - less than five feet! - and collecting our trash would benefit not just us, but our neighbors and the condition of Allston streets.

Other problems plague the area: petty theft between neighbors, inconsiderate can and bottle collectors who roam the street and rip open bags in their zeal to find these items, leaving spilled trash in their wake. I mean, there’s a handful of problems to tackle in a purely insular sense. However, the perpetuation of being informed that these rats appeared of their own volition seems to bleed into the mindset of the Allston resident. We accept our rat problem as fact, as some hardwired error of our own homes and lifestyles.

With all the influence that Harvard has, it would be nice if they at least owned up to initially causing the rat problem in Allston instead of hiding behind a gift and saying, essentially, “Well, it’s still not our fault but here! Just in case you still blame us, here!” Perhaps instead of slowly occupying our town and then abandoning it upon realization that it hosts less-than-satisfactory conditions, they could work to improve it or encourage the residents to.

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