Brussels cleans up
We all know that the capital's streets can seem to be paved with dog poop. But now Brussels is doing something about it. Renée Cordes reports.
Anyone who's lived in Brussels for even a short time has undoubtedly looked down at his shoes to find an unpleasant souvenir left by one of the city's loveable yet annoying pooches.
But if even if the cleanliness fairy were to make all the dog droppings disappear instantly, many streets would still be full of litter. For years, this visual pollution has cast an unfortunate shadow on a city with some of the world's most beautiful architecture.
Tired of cleaning up the mess, public authorities have launched a multi-pronged offensive against the mess left by humans and canines alike, and is using everything from dragons to garbage police to new forms of transportation in the campaign.
About two weeks ago the city of Brussels dispatched its first two "motocrottes", motorised scooters equipped with special vacuum cleaners to pick up dog droppings.
The vehicles travel about 30 kilometres a day and so far have mainly been concentrating on more genteel areas like the centre of town and the leafy northern suburb of Laeken where the royals have their summer castle. The vehicles are so advanced that they can even pick up excrement in liquid form, though it's probably best not to think too much about how this works.
"This is the easiest and quickest way" to eradicate the dog-doo problem, said Michel Jammarts, a technical assistant in the City of Brussels' public property department. He said authorities copied the idea from France, where it's been a success. Brussels eventually plans to buy more of the special scooters, which cost roughly EUR 16,000 apiece. It'll need at least eight more to cover the whole city.
At the same time, Brussels has also introduced new legislation designed to keep people and their pets from littering the streets. Anyone who puts their trash out on a non-pickup day is subject to a fine between EUR 74 and 148. And those who let their dog make a mess without cleaning it face a EUR 125 fine.
Beginning soon there'll even be special police hiding in unmarked cars to catch any offenders. Spreading the word about Operation Cleanup is a smiling dragon who appears on posters throughout town. "A clean city! I'm doing my bit," the posters say.
While all this may seem rather extreme to some, American cities like New York and Washington have shown that fines can be an effective deterrent. Anyone who takes a dog out in an urban area in the US almost always carries a plastic bag or something else to pick up after the animal. Of course, it's anybody's guess how long it will take for this kind of behaviour to become ingrained in the Belgian mentality.
The commune of Schaerbeek, the lively commune on Brussels' north side, is taking another approach to the poo problem. It's set up 17 "canisites", or specially designated areas where dogs can do their business, with plans to install up to 50 by year's end. These public toilets essentially are made of sand which dogs seem to love, and are emptied daily.
"It works very well," said Francis Lourie, chef de cabinet of Jan-Pierre Van Gorp, Schaerbeek's échevin responsible for public property. "Once dogs try the sand two or three times they're hooked."
He said this method will eventually eliminate 80 percent of the droppings on sidewalks. It's looking to the industrial town of Charleroi, which first pioneered canisites in Brussels, as a role model.
The doggy toilets are part of a larger clean-up effort in Schaerbeek, which like Brussels is also dispatching special police to make sure people don't put their trash out after the collection. The mascot for the Schaerbeek campaign is a cute alligator named Netty, undoubtedly short for 'Nettoyage', or cleaning in French.