by Pete Mazzaccaro

In Chestnut Hill, change never comes easy. In fact, it usually takes a good public brawl and a lengthy, painful debate. As I’ve said in this space before, Chestnut Hill is a neighborhood where even a picket fence installation can be controversial.

Sometimes the controversy is what we should expect.

We’ve seen it recently with the conflict over Chestnut Hill College’s proposed expansion. And we saw it with the plans of the Green Woods Charter School to buy the Greylock mansion. In both cases, a great deal is (was, in the case of Green Woods) at stake – millions of dollars in projected costs, major impacts to environment and population density. In both instances, near neighbors stand (stood) to loose significant elements of their neighborhoods.

It makes sense that projects like those would be the subject of intense debate. Both constitute the potential for major change in what really is a small city neighborhood. If you didn’t have an argument about these things, I think you’d really have to worry abut the civic pulse of Chestnut Hill.

But not all battles in the neighborhood are about big multi-million dollar projects. Right now, battle lines have been drawn and attitudes have hardened in Chestnut Hill around a matter for which seemingly very little is at stake: a proposal to deliver 15 BigBelly solar compacting trash and recylcing units to Chestnut Hill.

Sounds great, right? The City is going to give the neighborhood the cans. The Streets Department of Philadelphia has been cooperating with Green in Chestnut Chestnut Hill (GRinCH) on placing the cans. The Hill is ready to join numerous other city neighborhoods that have the BigBelly cans. It’s shapping up to be a win-win. But not, I’m afraid, without a fight.

Yes, that’s right. Even the deployment of solar compacting trash cans – only 15 of them in total – has become a matter of debate in Chestnut Hill. What has been a slam dunk nearly everywhere else has some on the Hill insisting that the cans just aren’t right for Germantown Avenue.

C’mon, these are trash cans right? And 15 won’t replace all of the 30+ so-called “traditional” green trash cans that currently populate nearly every intersection on the Avenue. Not to mention, we curently don’t have recycling receptacles on the Avenue. What’s not to like?

Big Belly critics here have pointed to a number of problems.

First, they say the cans aren’t in keeping with the historical character of the Avenue (i.e. they’re ugly). Second, they claim the cans are flawed because they require a user (i.e. someone with trash) to touch a handle to open the compactor. (Apparently those people never enter buildings with door handles.)

The Chestnut Hill Community Association is poised to vote on whether to support the installation of BigBellys at its June 23 meeting. And the debate has gotten to the point where support no longer seems like a slam dunk. That’s a real shame.

If the CHCA and the community at-large come out against 15 free, environmentally friendly (not to mention cost-saving) trash receptacles because they’re afraid of the color brown and germs, it will further enforce the neighborhood’s stodgy reputation – a reputation many on the Hill are trying to fight – in a way that’s much more palatable than the debate about Chestnut Hill College right now.

It might seem small, but if we say no to BigBellys, it sends a message that Chestnut Hill is content to be behind the times and too eager to cling to the past, even when the past is represented by an artificially antiquated garbage can.