Street Photography: Looking Down

A while ago I was reading up on San Francisco in anticipation of a visit I was making to the city. I read about how it is one of the most populous US cities and other statistical facts. What caught my attention though was that the city was dealing with a chronic problem of human feces on public streets. Between 2011 to 2018, reports of human waste went from 5,500 annual incidents to more than 28,000 incidents. Who knows how much worse it really is given that not everyone is going to bother filing a report. Plus, of course, there is whatever dog feces that have not been scooped up. So that’s an awful lot of poop baking in the California sunshine. Although I did not encounter any feces while I was there, the potential for a misstep is enough for one to keep their eyes down.

All of this came back to mind when I was uptown in New York City and saw the above sign at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It’s posted in a park-like area near the church. There’s even a bench with a realistic sculpture of someone asleep on it. In this context, I was sure the sign was intended to discourage the homeless from public defecation. After I took the photograph, which was taken quickly as I walked by, I saw the bottom where it was clear the reference was to dogs.

It got me thinking about the state of public feces in New York City – both dogs and human. A little checking revealed that the Big Apple has about 2,500 complaints of human waste, which is far less than San Francisco especially considering that New York City has a larger population. An article in The New York Times, for example, reports that residents of a Chelsea apartment building have had to clean up after the homeless who not only leave behind their feces, but trash, rotting food, used needles, and urine stored in juice bottles. So it’s a problem but not an epic one.

As far as good old fashioned dog feces go, it does rank up there as a quality of life issue, especially in the Bronx. The number of filed complaints have been going down ever since New York City passed its Pooper Scooper law in 1978. But the complaints that do remain have been vocal. So perhaps the church has it right. Add an 11th commandment. Thou shalt not poop.

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Published by Xiomáro

Nationally exhibited artist, photographer, speaker, teacher, and curator. Author of "Weir Farm National Historic Site" (Arcadia Publishing).

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