How One Neighborhood Solved the Problem of Unplowed Streets

by Steve Stroiman

For most of us who live on very narrow streets which rarely get plowed by the city, snow of any significant depth can pose a major challenge.  However, for one of our neighbors, it was a matter of life and death–he had to receive dialysis treatments.  After one particularly heavy storm, the neighbors on his block shoveled the street in order for him to get to the dialysis center.


That feat paved the way–literally and figuratively–for further community efforts regarding snow removal.  In December of 1995, our town watch neighborhood (Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim Town Watch) pooled our money together and contracted with a local company.  The timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous, because a historic 33-inch blizzard crippled the city a few weeks later.  We gloated over our cleared streets but couldn’t go anywhere–the surrounding roads remained impassable for days.


That was 18 years ago, and we are still contracting privately.


How does the neighborhood snow clearance work?  Simply stated, the coordinator creates a flyer and arranges for its delivery to the 200+ households in the town watch area.  A contribution of $40.00 is requested from each household (those on a limited income are asked to give what they can).  Since there are some mild winters in which the snow fund is hardly touched, we collect only when it needs to be replenished.


After the neighbors are notified, representatives from each block follow up by serving as drop off locations. The money is deposited into a dedicated snow clearance fund.


Numerous questions arise when undertaking a voluntary community endeavor like this, ranging from the philosophical to the mundane.  For example, should those who don’t drive or own a car pay into the fund?  The answer is an unequivocal yes, because everyone benefits from cleared streets, whether for mail delivery, general use, or as was pointed out above, for medical emergencies.  Also, what about those who object to participating for whatever reason?  It was decided collectively that at least 65% of the households on a block must contribute in order for that street to be plowed.


The private snow clearance requires much time and effort on the part of the coordinator and block representatives.  However, it not only provides a valuable service to the neighbors, it also fosters a strong sense of community for which Mt. Airy is known.



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