Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Elaborate ice structures — such as this hotel in Kiruna, Sweden — have been built around the world. Cambridge could follow the example in a coming winter predicted to be as powerful as this past one. (Photo: Robert Rybnikar)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site MainStreet.com ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about spring cleaning.

We need a plan for the next catastrophic winter. Spring-cleaning time seems a good time to come up with one.

The idea of spring cleaning is clear enough, at least in those parts of the country that have seasons: Now that the snows have abated and people can venture out of their homes — go visiting and such — those homes have to be presentable to company.

I’m spared this because it doesn’t matter how clean my apartment is; it still isn’t presentable. I don’t have stuff or want it, but I actually need new furniture and, really, to fit new furniture I’d need a different apartment.

Why don’t we go to your place instead?

Not only does the whole idea of spring cleaning make no sense on sociological, anthropological or economic bases — because if you’re cooped up for the winter anyway, why not just clean? — but it fails on a biological basis as well. Spring doesn’t activate the cleaning genes in me, just the hormones that demand I breed. And that doesn’t happen either.

While I know there must be people out there whipping out their spray bottles of 409 and brooms as soon as the weather gets confusing, as opposed to simply appalling, the nature of the area doesn’t make it too obvious: The top times for sidewalk sales (or just dumping of household goods) remains whenever the most students are moving out, and  the action at Goodwill never stops. Even this winter’s 70-plus inches of snow hasn’t changed that significantly.

The snow did change a couple of other things, though. It took a $332,000 removal budget and turned it into more than $1.2 million worth of frozen tears. And it resulted in what President George W. Bush might have called a “catastrophic success” in terms of parking tickets, a result of the piles of snow created by our city’s diligent Public Works plows.

As the winter went on, see, the piles grew and cars parking as close to curbs as possible weren’t parking close to the curbs at all, even when drivers rolled out of their seats because one side of their cars were parked on hills of ice. But leave a car more than three feet from a curb and that results in a ticket. Or, over this past winter in Cambridge, some 2,900 tickets, according to the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department director at an April 4 meeting of the City Council. As director Susan Clippinger described it, that resulted in another challenge for the city in the form of hearings demanded by people disputing the tickets.

“Eighty hearings in one day?” city councillor Tim Toomey asked Clippinger and the city manager, after hearing their report. “Is that even possible?”

Sure it is, for a city motivated to clear away the waste of a winter. (Especially if the judges listen to councillor Leland Cheung’s request: “I would err on the side of being lenient and forgiving,” Cheung said, noting that a ticket’s power to incentivize good behavior is lost when drivers have no options except to break a law that is somewhat obscure in the first place. “It was crazy on snow days. It was unprecedented and people were just trying to figure out what to do with their cars. Now that the snowstorms are over, being extremely strict doesn’t serve us.”)

The city can make the tickets evaporate nearly as quickly as did the snow itself, which was astonishingly quickly. While in past years patches of snow would linger well into the spring, brattily reminding people in shorts and flip-flops not to get too comfortable, this year gigantic mounds of the stuff seemed to vanish virtually overnight.

We know it’ll be back, though, which is why I have a couple of forward-looking suggestions for similarly bad winters to add to Cheung’s rear-view advice:

  • Pay Medford to accept our snow on some of its Veterans Memorial Park on Route 16. There’s nearly 10 acres up there — less, of course, when you necessarily subtract the Little League and softball fields — only a few miles and minutes from Cambridge, making for extraordinarily easy dumping access. If we have money but so little space for snow that we have 3,000 drivers somehow suddenly breaking the law, we should check with Medford whether they need our money to stash snow where it won’t get in the way.
  • We can also identify a construction site somewhere in the city (we seem to never run out) that’ll be frozen by winter weather anyway and truck the snow there to be transformed into interactive art, maybe even by the same geniuses who create ice hotels and ice bars everywhere from Stockholm to Las Vegas.