Not just party animals? Go figure
Outside Charlie Geyer's Allston apartment, a white trash can nearly blends in with the snow. But under the fresh blanket of snowflakes are the green, hand-painted words "Keep Allston Decent." Since September 2007, when the BU student started asking other students to help him tidy up the neighborhood, those three words have been Geyer's motto and motivation. Through Keep Allston Decent, Geyer hopes to transform the image of the neighborhood he and many other students call home from sloppy party central to clean and respectable.
The trash barrel outside Geyer's apartment is one of the three supplied by private donors that Keep Allston Decent has placed around the neighborhood to help curb littering after weekend parties. And every week, Geyer and his friends empty the full bins themselves, moving the trash to dumpsters and bins outside their own apartments.
In the basement of an Ashford Street apartment, a group of 14 students gathered to paint their third trash can last Sunday. Rap music blasted in the background, and friends mingled, drinking hot chocolate.
Every other week, Keep Allston Decent meets on the corner of Ashford and Chester streets to pick up debris that collects on the streets of their Allston neighborhood, where many parties take place.
With brooms and trash bags in hand, students scour a six-block area between Linden and Malvern streets, sweeping up broken glass and scooping up plastic cups. Geyer, a 22-year-old Boston University senior studying anthropology, has lived in Allston for two and a half years. Disgusted by the trash that lined his neighborhood streets, he had an idea to create a group to pick up after weekend parties.
"The parties aren't gonna stop in Allston," Geyer said. "It's just a matter of being responsible enough to understand the negative repercussions for the things that they do. If you throw that red cup on the ground it's going to stay there unless somebody picks it up."
To recruit students, Geyer set up a website (keepallstondecent.org) and shared the idea with his friend Alex Owens, a 21-year-old former BU student who has lived in Allston for two years. Owens immediately jumped in to help organize the biweekly Sunday afternoon pickups.
"When you talk to BU students, it's like a party playground," Owens said. "Most college students like the fact that it's like that, that it is kinda dirty, that it is gritty and that they can do whatever they want."
Geyer and Owens agree that attitudes need to change.
"The problem is people treat Allston with a lot of disrespect," Geyer said. "You get kids just breaking bottles on the street and being unruly, not just having a good time going out, but just being a nuisance. We want people to cut down on it."
Like other college students, Geyer has parties too. But he says they're what inspired him to start the project.
He says all he asks of students who attend his parties is to "come out tomorrow and help us clean up."
Since they started their cleanups last year, Geyer says the response from neighbors has been positive. Neighbors have taken notice of the trash cans and congregations of college students sweeping the streets every other Sunday.
"Every cleanup, it always surprises me," Owens said. "There's a lot of families that live here; older residents a lot of times they just come out and say 'thank you.' "
Neighborhood businesses have also chipped in to help Geyer's cause.
Model Hardware offers a discount on equipment like paint brushes and brooms, and Second Cup Cafe has supplied the group with coffee during clean-ups.
Keep Allston Decent has other plans too.
Members hope to plant gardens in bare patches along the streets, shovel snow for neighbors, and set up a graffiti mural by local artists to get the word out about their project.
And in May, they hope to create a garage swap, a block party to help keep the streets clear of used furniture and appliances that students throw on the streets as they move out of their apartments.
Geyer, who graduates this spring, hopes someone will take on the project if he no longer lives in Allston.
"I think it would be kinda neat to carry on. I think it needs to come from college kids," he said. "It's important that we show the population that college kids are decent humans. They're not just party animals; they can be good people too."
Amy Farnsworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org