Where have all the flowers gone?

Chicago – Alsip 19.8 miles

It is perhaps no surprise, but living in poverty means a life without flowers. As I walked the old Route 66 out of Chicago today I passed pockets of gentrification. And I was bothered by the fact that the ramshackle, run-down buildings were surrounded by garbage and rot, while the newly gentrified buildings were clean and had gardens–flowers and manicured hedges.

Of course this is not unique to Chicago. We live in a nation where those with means have access to nature, while those without means are left to live amongst the waste. It is not uncommon for poor neighborhoods to be located adjacent to industrial zones, by train tracks, near landfills or power stations, or in the vicinity of other questionable areas. The reasons for this are likely complicated. Properties near parks and pristine acreage tends to be more desirable and hence more expensive. And those without means lack the ability to fight against the pollution of their neighborhood, or to move if their community becomes unhealthy.

But I also suspect some of the garbage in poor neighborhoods comes from those living there themselves. Perhaps a lack of care towards one’s surroundings comes from a lifetime of being treated as a second-class citizen. Standing in line at a McDonald’s on the west side of Chicago today, a man handed me two crumpled dollar bills and then disappeared into a sea of all black faces. In my attempt to pass forward his generous act, as I walked from McDonald’s I picked up as much trash as I could for the next block and threw it in the nearest garbage can. But the next block, and the next, and the next were also speckled with trash–candy bar wrappers, plastic utensils, condoms, fast-food packaging, weather-worn grocery bags. How is society at large going to change its perception of poverty if those living in poverty don’t first change their perception of themselves–to see that they are worthy of flowers instead of garbage.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper