On the list of well-known Edmontonians working to make the city’s downtown core cleaner, safer and more vibrant, you won’t find the names of Wendy De Sousa and Meagan Morales. That’s just fine with them. It’s the same for the other members of the Clean City Crew.
“We are making the city safer by removing hazards and garbage and litter,” said De Sousa, who has worked for two years as a crew member.
“For me, there is nothing nicer than coming up to a space, cleaning it up and then saying that looks awesome.”
The City of Edmonton, with groups like the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, has identified the areas that receive the most complaints about trash and biohazards. Crews pay special attention to these “hot spots.”
The crew is a team of almost 50 workers who focus their cleanup efforts on the downtown core. They clean away graffiti. They take away abandoned shopping carts. They safely remove biohazards, including syringes and organic waste. They pick up litter and debris. They tidy up park landscaping. And they use an app to keep track of everything they don’t leave behind.
So far this year, the crew has collected and safely removed more than 187 tonnes of litter and 15,000 needles.
Here are some of the areas that get prime attention from the Clean City Crew:
• The Quarters
• Along the LRT line outdoors
• North Edge
“To be a home, an economic hub and a destination, downtown Edmonton must be a safe and welcoming place,” said Travis Kennedy, General Supervisor of Open Space Operations with the City of Edmonton. “The Clean City Crew is vital to that work.”
Parks and areas
Crew member Meagan Morales has been on the job for the last six months. She says work that might strike some as not very glamorous is actually very rewarding.
“I can go home and feel really proud about it,” said Morales. “In the last 12 years of my life, there wasn’t really a whole lot of that. It’s nice, too, because there’s a lot of community connection. A lot of people see us out here and come up to give us messages of thanks.”
The parks and parkspace that get the crew’s attention also include:
• Dawson Park
• Michael Phair Park
• amisko wacîw wâskahikan ihtâwin (Beaver Hills House Park)
• MacEwan University LRT greenspace
• Alex Taylor Road
• Churchill Square
• Alex Decoteau Park
• Kitchener Park
• Constable Ezio Faraone Park
How are you doing today?
Clean City Crew work includes cleaning up near tents and shelters of Edmonton’s vulnerable population.
“I’ll say, ‘How are you doing today?’” said De Sousa.
“It’s no different than interacting with anybody else,” she said, adding that small talk topics are just the same. “‘How’s it going?’ ‘What are you guys up to today?’ ‘It’s getting cold’ or ‘There’s an Oilers game tonight,’ or just things like that because that’s how you would chat up anybody you might meet on the street. So that’s how we try to handle it as well.”
Visitors and residents
Morales said the team works hard to keep downtown’s highly visible areas clean, but doesn’t forget neighbourhood areas, including alleys, that are used more by actual residents.
“People don’t see what we do in the alleys,” Morales said. “Very rarely do people actually come down them. The standard citizen that isn’t passing through might not see as much but, for the residents, it gives them a little bit of hope so they know that something is happening and we are trying to mitigate it while a solution is found.”
Nigel Singh, a barista at DOSC, doesn’t know De Sousa or Morales, but has noticed the work of the Clean City Crew.
“I’ve noticed that the parks are cleaner than they were in previous years,” said Singh, who likes to take his break at nearby Michael Phair Park on 104 Street.
“Five years ago, I’d be able to find needles, wrappers, gum, and food stuck to the pavement, but, now, I don’t notice as much litter or destruction within the parks.”
That kind of observation, along with the routine thanks the team gets from people on the street, is the kind of attention that means the most to the members of the Clean City Crew.
“When we are cleaning up for the people of Edmonton, you go home and know that you did a great job,” said De Sousa. You’ve cleaned this and that, and you know you’ve made it safer.”
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Clean City Crew member John Wolsey taking aim at downtown litter, October 2022.