Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mining Urban Streets for Metal

Nice little slideshow visually documenting the state of affairs, and efforts to combat it serving as the accompaniment to the article Philadelphia Streets Unsafe for Manhole Covers.;
Francis McConnell is a field supervisor for the Philadelphia Water Department, but lately he is acting more like an undercover police officer.

Several hours a day, five days a week, he stakes out junkyards. Pretending to read a newspaper, Mr. McConnell sits near the entrances and writes down descriptions of passing pickup trucks and shirtless men pushing shopping carts.

His mission is to figure out who is stealing the city’s manhole covers and its storm drain and street grates, increasingly valuable commodities on the scrap market. More than 2,500 covers and grates have disappeared in the past year, up from an annual average of about 100.

Thieves have so thoroughly stripped some neighborhoods on the city’s north and southwest sides that some blocks look like slalom courses, dotted with orange cones to warn drivers and pedestrians of gaping holes, some nearly 30 feet deep.

Two adolescents were injured in recent months after falling into uncovered holes, motorists and cyclists are increasingly anxious about damaging tires, and the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — $300,000 at last count — to replace the missing covers.

“They used to say the streets around here will swallow you up, but they were talking about drugs and guns,” said Keith Thomas, 32, as he hoisted a radiator he collected onto a scale at a junkyard in a drug-ravaged section of the Kensington neighborhood on the city’s north side.
It's indicative of where we're at, that thieves have been systematically stripping the available appurtenances of the infrastructure on which the communities - in which they themselves reside - depend. These people are fundamentally at odds with their own physical and social environment - scavenging from communal life support because they are no longer supported or self-supporting in that context. The folks doing this are canaries in the proverbial American coal mine....,