Can Pitt get SOUL (i.e., South Oakland Urban Litter)?

December 11, 2011 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article

By Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Carlino Giampolo has a name for the families of Panther Hollow. He calls them Oakland’s “pre-university settlers,” and he’s not at all happy with the way they’re treated by the gigantic neighbor above.

That would be the University of Pittsburgh, whose leaders remain unconvinced by Mr. Giampolo’s arguments that it should fund a full-time litter patrol to keep the streets of South Oakland clean.

I walked and drove its streets with him Friday morning. A Pitt official had sent me a list of the streets that Pitt and CMU fraternities and sororities purportedly police once each month to keep them free from litter. “Keep it Clean” it’s called.

Litter was up and down the lower part of Bouquet Street, and garbage cans were still on the sidewalk three days beyond the Tuesday pickup. Empty beer cans and cartons punctuated the sidewalk and front-yard bushes. Pointing to an empty can in front of one home, Mr. Giampolo, 65, who knew the elderly woman who lived there, took this wild guess: “That’s not her beer can, not her litter. She’s on oxygen.”

An overturned trash can sat in the middle of Atwood Street, a full trash bag lay on the porch roof of a house at Bates and Meyran, smashed glass tumbled from a ripped garbage bag laying in Meyran. A general acne of plastic, aluminum, cardboard and paper lay across the face of the neighborhood.

Mr. Giampolo now lives most of the year in Honolulu, but he comes back regularly to visit his parents, and he’s relentless in his attempts to get Pitt to put some money where its students’ trash is. He figures that for what would amount to $4 from every student’s tuition, it could launch South Oakland Urban Litter (SOUL) and hire 10 local youth to work four hours each weekday keeping the streets and sidewalks clean.

A couple of Decembers ago, trying to embarrass Pitt into action, Mr. Giampolo had a friend build a replica of the Cathedral of Learning, 3 feet wide and 9 feet high, to which he then nailed and glued pizza boxes, beer bottles and other bits of ugliness he’d picked up from a single block of Atwood Street one weekday afternoon.

He put that “Cathedral of Litter” into the back of a rented pickup truck and parked it outside its taller cousin, ultimately attracting four campus police cars that arrived with lights flashing. Mr. Giampolo got a ticket for illegal parking, but he didn’t go back home until he drove his exhibit to the City-County Building, too.

Vice Chancellor G. Reynolds Clark said university officials appreciate Mr. Giampolo’s perspective but doesn’t believe daily litter pickup on city streets is the university’s responsibility. The city agrees that much of the problem is “a landlord issue,” Mr. Clark said, and he doesn’t see any support for Mr. Giampolo from Oakland-based organizations.

So what keeps this lone crusader going?

“It began at the kitchen table of my cousin,” he said. She lives down the street from his parents. Four years ago when she was 76, she told him students had thrown beer cans in her yard and, after her son complained, they keyed his car and slashed the tires.

“That was a defining moment for me,” Mr. Giampolo said.

He grew up among people who kept immaculate homes. His grandmother would pick tiny weeds from between the cobblestones. He says when Pitt was building the Cathedral of Learning in the 1920s, many of the immigrant families of Oakland contributed to its funding.

Now he likens that to inviting a guest into your home, and seeing the guest “attempt to become a master.” There’s no getting around the fact that students now dominate the neighborhood, but that’s why Pitt needs to play a greater role in maintaining it.

He has drawn up a list of nine issues for Pitt. High on his list are never-ending expansion, binge drinking, trash, litter and illegal dumping. I admire his resolve, but I expect that list to make no more impression on Pitt than any of what’s blowing around on Bouquet Street.

Brian O’Neill: or 412-263-1947.
First published on December 11, 2011 at 12:00 am
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