Trash and Rodents in a “Renaissance” City

Graham Mooney, Johns Hopkins University

The symbiotic relationship between garbage and rats did a lot of political work in Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s as the city cultivated its “Renaissance” image. While big-ticket capital development projects adorned downtown and the inner harbor in an attempt to attract investment and tourists, the city’s 4-term (1971-1987) Mayor Donald Schaefer cemented his “man-of-the-people” reputation by driving through neighborhood alleys spotting rat holes to bait and trash to remove. And when the “Charm City” ad offensive was launched in July 1974, Baltimore was in the vice-like grip of a heatwave and sanitary workers’ strike, during which the City Health Commissioner dismissed mountains of uncollected, stinking trash as nothing but an “esthetic hazard.” On the one hand, rodent control and community sanitation was an important source of federal dollars that provided much-needed employment for residents. On the other hand, the city administration constantly failed to establish a long-term coherent strategy to break the rubbish-rodent nexus, relying instead on the rhetoric of individual citizen responsibility and hopeful eradication campaigns, including an “Assault on Trash,” “Trashball” and “Zap the Rat!” City managers bemoaned the bad publicity that rodents and trash attracted, but in this paper I argue that they were nonetheless a key element in the process of racializing an “other Baltimore” (Olesker, 1983) that conjured up a necessary contrast to the image of a safe, salubrious “Renaissance” City

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 32. Presidential Session: Environmental Justice and Public Health