The Seattle trash map shows the city has a problem it needs to address

I don’t know if this was inspired by the San Francisco poop map, but it offers a similar view of a major west coast city that desperately needs to clean up its act. Christopher Rufo, who created the map, is the same person who recently created a short film about a woman who was raped by a homeless man in Seattle. Here’s what Rufo told MyNorthwest about the map shows and how it was made:

“Obviously, anyone who drives through a neighborhood in Seattle can see trash and needles across the street,” Rufo told The Candy, Mike, and Todd Show on KIRO Radio. “I wanted to really figure out how much trash is there in the city of Seattle with a little more statistical precision. So I did a public records request for all the citizen complaints for trash, needles, feces, tents, biohazards for 2018. And I got back 19,000 citizen complaints. I geo-coded them, and I mapped them in an interactive map.”…

The map is interactive, but is not comparative. It only covers 2018 and does not provide context to gauge if trash is increasing, decreasing, or moving around the city, year by year. Rufo says the natural next step is to document the trash over time.

“The snapshot is really important because there’s this argument over homeless encampments, trash, and needles and it really shows that neighbors and people who are complaining are not just imagining it,” Rufo said. “Especially in places like Ballard, SoDo, the University District there is just a proliferation of trash. You can’t walk half a block without reported needles, or feces, or all sorts of other unpleasant deposits along our streets.”

Rufo’s map actually includes the text of complaints and he highlighted some of the worst excerpts from those complaints here:

There are needles, garbage, feces, and about 13 tents in the gravel area next to where cars lineup. In this same area two weeks ago I saw a man yielding a hatchet at another man. I reported that incident, tents were cleaned up, and now people are back again and with needles everywhere. This is a common area where commuters walk to and from work and ferries.

The man in the tent waved a knife at one woman I know and aggressively tried to grab the bike of another friend. Please get him indoors. Apparently he has one or more assaults on record. Please please please fulfill basic municipal duty toward public health and safety. Especially on our main street!…

Garbage everywhere, drug use, weapons, scary men hanging around, needles. Will not take daughter to this park and it’s a block from our house…

Five tents with occupants in little triangular park. Needles, drug deals, drinking, illegal camping. Scaring away customers to our businesses. We are losing customers as they are nervous to come to our shop…

There is an enormous encampment here that has contributed to grow since it arrived. It is within a block of, and in full view of, not one but two schools. It operates a bike chop shop on the sidewalk, and drugs are sold out of it at night. There are needle caps littered all over the place around it. There have been a lot of suspicious characters in the neighborhood in the last week and everybody considers this an emergency.

As the Seattle Times pointed out last week, the city is collecting far less trash than it did just a couple of years ago, despite the consensus that the problem is worse now than it was then. The result of more people leaving trash and fewer attempts to clean it up is this map of citizens calling the city to complain about the mess. Again, this is just a sample and all of this comes from 2018.

For the sake of fairness, it’s worth noting that the Seattle Times published an editorial today suggesting that Seattle’s Mayor and city’s fire and police departments deserve some credit for some improvements as of late:

Much more remains to be done, especially to address harm caused by a small subset of the city’s homeless population repeatedly victimizing people in certain neighborhoods with little consequence. City Hall’s belated response and high costs continue to need scrutiny. But efforts to improve responsiveness and try new solutions deserve support from the City Council and residents…

Simultaneously, Seattle is boosting police presence in seven neighborhoods this summer, under an emphasis program announced by Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best. Neighborhoods include several that have seen sharp increases in crimes, drawing complaints from neighborhood and business associations. It also coincides with a season that tends to see increased criminal activity.

So maybe some positive changes are starting to happen but Seattle has a long way to go.

The map below itself is interactive but seems a bit slow to respond. Make sure you’ve got the correct map tool when you try to move the map around (the one with four arrows). You’ll have to wait a few seconds for it to reload but it does work. Also, you can roll over each item on the map to read it, you don’t need to click on it at all. A lot of this garbage seems like illegal dumping of furniture and items people don’t want to pay to discard. That suggests they might need to drop the prices for bringing items to the dump. But there are also stretches full of tents and needles and feces which clearly are connected to the homeless. If the map isn’t working, you can see some jpegs of different neighborhoods here.