Sunday, November 8, 2009

Urban Density = Gum Spots

Visiting Brooklyn a few weekends ago reminded me of the glories of urban density. So many people so close together, able to support a huge range of businesses within walking distance, having the critical mass needed to make mass transit really work, and just the sheer stimulation of so many buildings and humans living their lives all in one place... I can get in a delirious dither about density pretty quickly.

But there's one thing about it I'll never understand: sidewalk gum spots.

A Brooklyn sidewalk with quarter-size black spots all over it
I know thousands of people traverse this stretch of concrete each week, and the gum is semi-permanent, probably lasting at least a year, maybe much longer. But even so, if every slab of concrete has this many gum blobs (and from my observation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, they did!), it means that a few people are spitting their gum on the sidewalk almost every day, or a whole lot of people are doing it once in a while.

Which is it? And why? Assuming the spitters are old enough to know better, or are accompanied by someone who is old enough to know better, this is surely a form of deviance at work. Why do people consciously undermine their own environment?

A month or so ago, I was in downtown Saint Paul for dinner and happened across a nice, fresh, pink wad of gum on the sidewalk. It hadn't been stepped on yet, and wasn't really stuck in place. So, being the good citizen that I am, I scrounged a piece of paper and picked it up to throw away.

It stands to reason that for every deviant who spits, there would be a civic-minded person who picks up the gum... but the window of opportunity for noticing and removing the gum is very small (before the stuff has been smashed and stuck) while the time available for spitting is infinite. And so we end up with black-pocked sidewalks.

Matt Maidre over at has his own thoughts on gum spots, including turning them into a game of connect the dots, or thinking of them as a way to form new constellations. I tried his suggestions with the photo above, but didn't come up with anything interesting.

I guess I just can't find an upside to gum stuck to the sidewalk.


Ms Sparrow said...

Oooooh! You have commented on one of my pet peeves. Whatever compels a "free-range" human to decide spontaneously that this is the exact moment to get the gum out of their mouth? Or does it simply fall out of the slack-jawed airhead's mouth? Sometimes I think gum chewers are just as nasty as smokers for offensive behavior.

Susan Tomlinson said...

You know, there is a tool that maintenance people use to scrape gum off a sidewalk. No kidding. It's basically a flat piece of steel on the end of a pole. It must be a pretty pervasive problem if it requires a special tool...