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Rochester Unites for Innovative Citywide Cleanup

By Rochester (NY) Mayor Robert J. Duffy
December 20, 2006


Rochester’s journey toward our goal of becoming the best mid'sized city in America took a giant step forward during a Spring-cleaning called Rochester’s Clean Sweep… Showing Pride in Our City. By combining the resources of city hall and the civic pride of the Greater Rochester area, we cleaned and beautified the city street-by'street, block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

Over a six-week period in April and May, more than 3,500 volunteers worked side-by'side with city employees to take the city by storm and collect in excess of 1,500 tons of debris and perform hundreds of beautification projects throughout New York’s third largest city.

The spirit generated by Rochester’s Clean Sweep transcended geographic and social boundaries. People came from the city and suburbs, the young joined with the old, business, labor, education, faith communities and nonprofit organizations all pitched in. There was also an unprecedented collaboration among city departments that came from the simple idea of making Rochester a better place by sprucing it up. Truly, a heartwarming and inspiring display of unity and pride enveloped the city and the entire region.

Making Clean Sweep happen was no small task. A large group of Rochester city staff from the Mayor’s Office, Environmental Services, Neighborhood Empowerment Teams, Recreation and the Rochester Police Department met weekly to plan logistics, clean-up routes, beautification projects, volunteer recruitment and management, promotions, gather food, supplies and more. This inter-departmental collaboration was unprecedented and fostered new appreciation for each other’s department. Organizing such a large number of volunteers and planning and implementing Clean Sweep required our staff to go beyond their ordinary routines that resulted in the formation of new working relationships.

We reached out to local community leaders for support. Sixteen Rochester businesses and organizations provided donations ranging from $100-$100,000. This outreach also resulted in the donation of goods, services and volunteers. A fund was established through our local community foundation to accept financial donations. These public-private partnerships were critical to the success of Clean Sweep.

Our volunteer recruitment efforts included mailings, radio and television commercials, newspaper advertisements and highway banners. Clean Sweep signs were placed on city refuse trucks and pre-recorded mayoral telephone calls were placed citywide and to specific neighborhoods. Volunteers were able to register online, by phone and in person.

Since our city has six Neighborhood Empowerment Team (NET) areas, we carried out Clean Sweep over six weeks, focusing on a different NET area each week. Volunteers were assigned to weekday projects and/or “Saturday Sweeps.”

During the Saturday Sweeps, volunteers gathered for coffee and donuts and received a Clean Sweep t'shirt. They were assigned to a team, given tools and gloves and sent out to work. Afterward, they came back for a picnic lunch. Volunteers were greeted and cheered on by myself, the Deputy Mayor, senior staff and members of city council. We joined them to collect leaves and litter and to plant flowers.

The atmosphere was always festive and upbeat, despite several weekends of rainy weather. The numbers of volunteers and the amount of debris collected grew each week. Nearly 400 hearty volunteers who showed up in a steady rain attended the first Saturday Sweep. After that, I issued good-humored challenges to exceed the prior weeks’ total participation and collected tonnage. That momentum built up so much that more than 1,000 volunteers turned out for the sixth Saturday Sweep!

You can imagine the scene. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, emblazoned with bright yellow Clean Sweep t'shirts, pouring out into the streets in teams to scour the neighborhoods, raking and picking up trash. The events received extensive news and editorial coverage with radio and television stations broadcasting live from the events.

I joined volunteers for as many weekday projects as possible. In fact, if someone wanted to meet with me during Clean Sweep, I asked that they join me on'site to conduct business as I raked or planted.

Residents and businesses were encouraged to clean up their own properties as well and one member of city council even organized a Clean Sweep coloring contest for city school kids. We extended our bulk refuse pickup operations to run the entire six weeks. We stepped up our pothole patching operations, cleaned up graffiti, spruced up parks, playgrounds and recreation centers. We swept streets and cleaned and mowed vacant lots.

Since the Clean Sweep effort was such a success, we launched two more Sweeps in the Fall. Over two Saturdays, another 1,500 enthusiastic participants lent their time and energy to our cause. Plans are already underway for our Spring Clean Sweep.

Certainly, we made an impact on the appearance of our city. But more importantly, we brought people together and raised our level of pride to heights we haven’t seen in decades.

If you would like more information about Rochester’s Clean Sweep…Showing Pride in Our City, contact Ted Capuano, Rochester Communications Bureau, at 585-428-6427.