how to resolve a diversity conflict
September 18, 2012 9:49 AM   Subscribe

A man died near our condo 7 years ago, and anonymous neighbors maintain a memorial at the relevant telephone pole by attaching stuffed animals, artificial flowers, and other stuff to it, which weather eventually turns into trash. The city has occasionally (rarely) removed it, but the mourners pile more on right away. How can we best negotiate an end to this long-running custom?

Ours is a diverse urban neighborhood, and this seems to be a custom among the urban poor. The vibe here is not unfriendly, but it's fair to say there is latent resentment of the "rich people" beginning to move in. We called the police this summer when a block party went on too loudly, too long into the night, and heard indirectly that there was anger among the partygoers about that. We would be willing to pay for installing a memorial plaque, but (a) it's against the law to attach stuff to a phone pole, and (b) it probably wouldn't speak to their needs anyway. The local mediation center charges each party. based on household income, from $20-$100/hour, which I'm sure the other, anonymous-so-far party will not agree to.

How can we find a "win-win" solution here?
posted by mmiddle to Human Relations (78 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is the phone pole planted in the sidewalk or in dirt/mulch around it? If dirt/mulch around it, could you create a plaque on a stone and have it place on the ground in front of the pole?
posted by floweredfish at 9:52 AM on September 18, 2012

Response by poster: Good idea, but it's encased in concrete.
posted by mmiddle at 9:53 AM on September 18, 2012

I'll be honest, this is ridiculous. You're actually thinking of mediation to solve this problem? Just let them do their thing

Like, maybe I'm missing something here based on location, but you've got to let shit slide in a city. Trash happens, noise happens. Earplugs. Tolerance. Someone someone cared about died. The win-win is that you learn to concentrate on things that matter
posted by MangyCarface at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2012 [210 favorites]

So, they've been maintaining this memorial for 7 years? And it's affecting you because....?

What's your end goal -- to get them to stop and be happy about it?

This is one of those things that just doesn't go over well in a gentrifying neighborhood. You moved into *their* space. And no one, no matter their ethnicity, takes well to having the cops bust up their party.
posted by amanda at 9:55 AM on September 18, 2012 [48 favorites]

I really don't think there is any way you can ask people (especially "anonymous neighbors") to stop publicly mourning this loss and not come across as heartless. They've been maintaining it for 7 years, so clearly it is still important to them. If it truly bothers you, would you be willing to actually help organize the maintenance so you can clean the worst of it up and, of course, add some new flowers or whatever as a gesture of respect?
posted by juliplease at 9:57 AM on September 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

I don't think there is a win-win here, no. What harm is being brought to you by this memorial? And if you stacked that up against the comfort it brings to the people who wish to remember what happened there? I can't see an angle where both parties will be satisfied. I think... leaving it be is the win-win.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:57 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's going to be better for all concerned if you just organize some kind of regular cleanup to dispose of the decaying ex-plants/animals etc. as needed. They're mourning. It's clearly important to them. Don't create a conflict where there doesn't have to be one.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

You can't mediate a dispute with people you don't know the identity of.

If you care enough, throw the stuff out after a few days when the weather makes it look bad.
posted by inturnaround at 10:00 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no win win because at some point you'll have to say "your memorial to your dead friend is an eye sore" and no one wants to hear that.

I sympathize, this thing is probably a monstrosity, we've all seen them. But there's no win win. Either be a huge dick about it and have a nicer street, or let it go.
posted by Patbon at 10:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

If it's not a problem for the city, why is it a problem for you? I think roadside shrines tend to look terrible unless they're carefully maintained, but I also think other people's right to grieve trumps my wish not to look at soggy teddy bears and sun-bleached plastic flowers.

As for your dismissive statement that roadside shrines are the province of "the urban poor" I would suggest that that's nonsense. I've seen them all over the US, probably just as often in the broad expanses of rural South Dakota as in the Bronx or Echo Park.

How about letting other people do their thing? This shrine isn't on your property; it's not infringing on your life.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [34 favorites]

Clearly, this man was important within the community. Contact the city to request information on steps to create a permanent memorial. Post a petition on the telephone pole requesting donations for this memorial.
posted by mochapickle at 10:03 AM on September 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

I hate those memorials because like you say, after a while they turn into trash. You don't say where you are located, but could you periodically call your state transportation department and ask them to remove it?
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:03 AM on September 18, 2012

You might talk to your city council person about a permanent memorial on the site - they probably won't say yes, because there are a lot of accidents and violent deaths.

You comment on "gentrification" as if that word is a positive thing - it derives from the term 'gentry', ie 'rich people', and it indicates that richer people move into a neighborhood. It's pretty well documented that this drives up rents, steps up stop-and-frisk policing of brown/poor people and eventually drives out low-income residents to a new, usually less convenient (ie, for public transit and shops, which is super important when you don't have a car) locations. This is probably part of what people are reacting to when they see you - not resentment of your wealth and status but awareness that your wealth and status are very likely to make things harder for them in the near future.

Bear in mind that if you come in assuming that you're doing the neighborhood a favor, start calling the cops a lot and tell people who are obviously still deeply affected by a seven-year-old loss that they need to stop mourning in public because it is messy, you are not doing yourself any favors as a neighborhood resident. There are all kinds of perfectly legal, perfectly respectable ways to make someone unwelcome, and you don't want to find yourself on the wrong end of them.
posted by Frowner at 10:04 AM on September 18, 2012 [53 favorites]

The telephone co owns the pole. Call them and let them deal with it.
posted by asockpuppet at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you mention that this seems to be a custom among the "urban poor" I think you have to consider that his family may not have been able to afford a cemetery plot or a gravestone. This pole might be the only physical representation they have of the lost life. (I know that when I buried my father, there was poverty grant that would cover the cost of cremation but not of a casket, burial, cemetery plot or anything else.) I do truly feel like the only "win-win" situation would be for you to get over your dislike of it. Sorry.
posted by kate blank at 10:07 AM on September 18, 2012 [15 favorites]

I can't imagine that a plaque of any kind would prevent people leaving flowers; rather the reverse. I mean, when dead folks have a grave then their relatives go and leave flowers there right next to a great big headstone. A memorial will just become a focal point for leaving things.

If the mourners are still so engaged with the memory of the deceased, they might like the idea of making a "proper" memorial somewhere else, like the local cemetery - on the grounds that it's a more pleasant place to be remembered than the side of a road. Hopefully the person in charge of the cemetery would then be responsible for tidying the dead flowers and so on.

But Lord forbid these folks ever find out that your actual reason for interest is that their shrine doesn't look nice enough. Maybe you could get to know them first, and learn enough about them and the dead person that you find yourself with more sympathy over the whole business.
posted by emilyw at 10:07 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please let this go. Things like this are part of the soul of urban neighbourhoods and are very important to a lot of the people who live there. If you want a sanitized neighbourhood you are free to live somewhere in the suburbs with a strict HOA.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2012 [37 favorites]

if it really bugs you, just type a sign out that says "please keep this area clean in memory of the deceased", laminate it (or put it in one of those plastic sheet protectors) and staple it to the pole.
posted by raihan_ at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

About the only ground on which you could stand (and it's pretty thin, based on your description) is that the memorial presents some sort of health or safety issue - it blocks the sidewalk, affects visibility for drivers, attracts vermin or something like that. Echoing the general sentiment that this sort of thing comes with the territory. There is no good way to negotiate this thing away, so there is no win-win scenario short of them keeping it and you learning to live with it.
posted by jquinby at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2012

nth-ing that re: neighbour relations, you should strongly consider whether this is the hill you want to die on (plus, there's really no effective steps to take here that won't make you look evil, and I presume that you're not!).

Mediation may be a good idea if there are frequent, loud parties. But a block party is a different ball game, since it's a form of community bonding.

This isn't answering any question you asked, but perhaps you should try engaging in the community, learning about the people within it, and maybe forging some bonds with neighbours? I think a personal perspective shift is beneficial here, rather than desiring a behavioural shift of the neighbourhood.
posted by Paper rabies at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're irritated by the eyesore of weather-damaged memorial items, why not periodically clear them away but--as a show of empathy for your neighbors--leave something small in place of what you take away. For instance, you could go to a craft store and pick up some artificial flowers, make a few little bouquets, and leave one each time you clear away the garbage.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:13 AM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

OK, I am not going to add to the pile-on except to say that this is a PRIME opportunity for you to practice the "live and let live" maxim that surely everyone, EVEN the urban poor, grew up with.

But let's be real. Living in an integrated neighborhood is not always easy. If something is interfering with your apartment itself, like broken bottles on the steps or a 3 a.m. party, then call away. The urban working poor will doubtless appreciate it, as they, too, have to get up and go to work.

Here's a thought experiment. I mean it in total sincerity. Let's say you had a friend who died in a (grisly, nightmarish) traffic accident. (I do.) Around once a year, maybe more, you leave flowers or a memento at the place where it happened. (I don't, but his other friends do.)

Wouldn't it make you feel like crap if you knew that the neighbors were saying, "Wow, look at those yuppie assholes and their cute little $45 floral arrangement! Oh, cry me a river, he died FIVE years ago--go ask Daddy to buy you a REAL monument somewhere!" The heckling wouldn't affect you at all, but the thought of it would still make you feel like crap.
posted by skbw at 10:16 AM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

If you were on good terms with these people, you might be able to periodically clean up the decayed, damaged stuff while leaving the newer contributions in place, and explain it as "wanting the memorial to look nice for Mr. So-and-so." Given that you've already identified "latent resentment" toward a group that seems to include you, and that you've already started calling the police on their block parties, I don't think you have the appearance of good faith that would be needed to make such a clean-up acceptable.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:19 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

It might help you to deal with this better if you knew more about the man who died. Suddenly, instead of looking at a pile of trash, you'll see a memorial for a guy who meant so much to people that they're still thinking about him.

Your situation isn't easy, but it's truly amazing, and I mean this sincerely, how far a bit of empathy can go.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 10:22 AM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

How do you know this memorial is the product of the 'urban poor' if they are anonymous? Do you automatically assign them the label 'urban poor' because their aesthetic doesn't match yours? Just because you think it looks unsightly doesn't mean your opinion matters any more than those to whom this memorial has obvious value. Who's-ever it is, I suggest you leave it be and find something more important to get your panties in a bunch about.
posted by greta simone at 10:23 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

This is not a "diversity" conflict. Diversity is often used as a code word for "non-white". You're the one who is making the neighborhood more 'diverse' by moving in.

This is a cultural conflict between your culture, and their culture. They clearly think mourning for a friend publicly is the right thing to do. You clearly think that imposing your desire to have a 'clean' street is better than "living and let living".

Whom is the memorial harming? Nobody.
Whom would the forced removal of this memorial harm? The friends and family who would like to publicly gather and memorialize their friend's death.
posted by suedehead at 10:35 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I come from a city where these memorials are very very common (Detroit). What many of the posters seem to be missing is that the decaying memorials aren’t just an "eye sore" but many times a health concern. Sometimes the stuffed animals get large amounts of mold from a few weeks of humidity, urban critters come in to gnaw on whatever looks or smells editable (rats and racoons are particularly bad for this), and maggots like to get at some of the foliage. Worse is when you get cat-sized, disease infested rats who decided to live inside the warm carcases of the stuffed animals that have fallen from the pole.

So this isn't necessarily an issue of "I don't like it because it clashes with my patio furniture and drops my property value". Unsurprisingly, people love to bring stuff to memorials, but then leave it to the nearest property owner to chase the rats off with a broom and bleach the area to get rid of the maggots.

In my neighbourhood, we have a remove and replace policy. Mourners generally seem to be alright with you removing the old stuff as long as you replace it with something nice. It doesn't have to match the scale of what you're removing, just a few little things to show that you respect the memory of the dead and those who want to keep the memory alive. A nice faux bouquet or faux flower wreath is usually fine.
posted by Shouraku at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2012 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, people are piling on, and it seems more than a little bit unfair if they haven't had a pile of old trash in front of their own homes. You can't make a lot of other people do something, so I think your best bet is try to find a way to clean up the trash while still allowing people the memorial. So if you remove dead flowers and soggy stuffed animals, add some pretty fake flowers. On preview, what Shouraku said.
posted by ldthomps at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Let it go.
posted by heyjude at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2012

"this seems to be a custom among..." Oh wow. Look, in case it helps you re-contextualise a bit, I live in a rural village of 2k, a visibly tidy and prosperous part of the planet, and a memorial like this has been maintained here for almost six years.
posted by kmennie at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: To be honest, it doesn't seem like OP knows if the deceased, the man being memorialized, actually lived in the neighborhood or not --- he might have lived nearby, or else he might have been just driving through the area, and his anonymous friends/family return to the accident site periodically.

If this memorial is clearly on public property, I'd leave it alone until and unless the items get bedraggled --- as Shouraku mentions, soggy stuffed animals need to go; faded/raggedy artificial flowers too. Otherwise, let it go.

If however it is on or borders on private property, I'd say less of a live-and-let-live approach is warrented, and be quicker to take everything down. (We have one near me that the family keeps re-newing, even though it's in the middle of someone's front yard: they've even threatened to sue the homeowner for taking it down! An extreme case, but yeah: totally justified in removing it entirely and immediately.)
posted by easily confused at 10:49 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

In one of your earlier questions, you mentioned a neighbhood association -- have you spoken with them about it? Perhaps if it was a group of people who were doing it or suggesting a "remove and replace" policy, it would be seen a a community effort and not just a thing to appease one household. You could possibly avoid adding to the "us versus them" vibe I'm getting here.
posted by sm1tten at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2012

My knee jerk reaction is that there is no way for you to touch or interfere for a memorial of someone you did not know without offending the shit out of the people who are maintaining that memorial. If the stuffed animals are getting moldy, call the city department to get rid of them.

Out of curiosity, have you ever asked your neighbors about the person who died? I don't mean go inside and google it, actually go to the neighbors and ask who it was and what they were like. See what they say.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:53 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OP, you're not a bad person for being frustrated by this, as many of the above posters have intimated. It is doing you (some small amount of) harm: it's an eyesore and leads to moldy trash around your home. I'm in the same type of... transitioning neighborhood, though I got chewed out by probably many of the same MeFites when I tried to describe my living situation in an old question as well. It takes some time to acclimate to, but you do need to acclimate to it, or leave.

The fact is that in that in your situation, you really have to pick your battles, or better yet, try not to think of them as battles at all. An empty lot with festering garbage because no one gives a shit? That's something to get upset about and try to change. A memorial of festering garbage because a guy that people liked died there? I understand your desire to change it, but save your energy and the goodwill it would cost you to try.
posted by supercres at 10:55 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Given that yours is a 'diverse' urban neighbourhood, you leave it alone as a memorial to an individual who was clearly very loved and still remembered, and as a testament to the diversity of practices in the neighbourhood.
posted by Partario at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

this is not just an action of the "urban poor" and if you want to live in a tidy, quiet neighborhood you should probably move into one. if you want to live in a gentrified space, this is part of the process. but, don't worry, the wealth brought by you and others like you will drive the undesirables out before too long.
posted by nadawi at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2012 [15 favorites]

Best answer: If anything, I would do this.

Get to know your neighbors. Get involved in your community. In a good faith sort of way.

In a year or so, if the makeshift telephone pole memorial is still happening, suggest something beautiful, useful, and permanent. Suggest it in a positive way, through the proper channels. Whether that's a community board meeting or talking to neighbors informally or whatever is most appropriate*. DO NOT frame it as a solution to unsightly garbage but as a permanent way of remembering someone who was important to the community.

For example in my neighborhood, there is this one particular block that has a beautiful stone bench installed on the sidewalk in an out of the way spot. On the bench is a plaque, in memory of someone who I'm guessing used to live there. I never knew the guy, but I think about him every time I walk down that block and notice the bench.

*If, even after getting more involved in the neighborhood, you're not sure what would be appropriate, just let it go.
posted by Sara C. at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have friends who are members of "the urban poor;" they would not take kindly to your efforts to make their neighborhood, which they've been a member of for years, more "appropriate" for you to live in. I strongly encourage you to be more considerate of the ebbs and flows of the community that you chose to move into, and respect the customs and practices they've had long before you decided to move in.

You know what gentrification is, and you know that you're apart of it. As their friends and family stop being able to afford living there, losing the memorial as their more well-off neighbors turn their noses up is going to sour their relationship to you. If you wish to avoid making this more uncomfortable for everyone than it already is, leave the memorial be. Especially because you have no idea who that man was or how much of a leader he may have been.

Unless you don't care about that sort of thing, in which case you can call the telephone company and be done with it.
posted by Ashen at 11:22 AM on September 18, 2012 [11 favorites]

*a part.
posted by Ashen at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2012

Best answer: Yikes. A lot of anger and resentment in this thread.

I think the win/win here is buying some nice but inexpensive faux flowers at the local dollar store and replacing the other items every week or two. The gov / phone company aren't going to address this with the passion frequency that you would. Smart of you to approach this with respect and consideration... we don't get to choose our neighbors.
posted by Muppetattack at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with muppetattack - "win-win" would be you learning about who died and why they are important to the community, then helping take care of the memorial so it looks good for all.
posted by rube goldberg at 11:27 AM on September 18, 2012

You should also probably avoid making categorical assumptions about what will "speak to the needs" of the "urban poor."
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2012 [26 favorites]

In some places the practice is to build a watertight case with glass insets that can be mounted appropriately for the situation. People take great pride in making something nice that conforms to local customs and/or regulations governing size; fabricating the case can be healing. This approach enables the survivors to curate a more permanent memorial which can include photos of the deceased, text describing his/her life, etc.

Other neighborhoods create annual block parties named after the deceased that includes a somber moment of remembrance. These events are good for strengthening community ties and maintaining connections with people who've moved out of the neighborhood for whatever reason (including gentrification).

However, at present you lack sufficient standing in the community to make these suggestions. Your motives will be rightly suspect as they are transparently impure because you're approaching this from a place of selfishness. If you get to know your neighbors and understand their grief you may, at some future date, be able to include these ideas along with others (e.g., Sara C.'s bench) from a place of sympathy and friendship. That day may never come, however, and you'll probably just have to accept that people grieve differently.
posted by carmicha at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone who said let it go, and call the city (preferable) or remove it yourself (last resort) if the trash really becomes a health problem.

But there's the long view, too. If your neighborhood truly is gentrifying (I checked your history to see where you were and I assume this is the neighborhood you previously called "rapidly improving"), then if you can wait long enough they will probably stop doing it. I've seen these memorials all over, in many different sorts of places, but I've never seen them in very affluent areas. People are usually quite good at picking up on where they're not wanted.

(Which on preview I see nadawi said too.)

Oh, and though I am technically urban and poor (though not, I suspect, the kind of person you mean by "urban poor") I don't like these kind of memorials. However, my guess is that people are drawn to the active remembrance of coming to the site and leaving flowers and gifts. I'm not sure that you paying to put up a plaque (that they would think about when they're not there? or come to visit without leaving anything behind?) would satisfy that need. But I could be wrong.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:29 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I would get some permanent memorial sign made up. A basic pieve of sheet metal, with something like: "In memorial to those we loved and lost". I would then afix it permanently to the telephone pole. (use tap-cons if you have to).

Then under your new permanent sign, I would put a temporary sign saying: "I put this memorial sign up for you as something permanent. I see that you leave little memorials hear for your loved one, and that they get destroyed or taken away. It makes me sad to see your memorial blow away in the wind, so I thought this permanent memorial might work better"
posted by Flood at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2012

Put up a plaque memorializing the fellow who died that mentions that donations to the memorial site will be tended to monthly. Then, when you clean up the site, put up a wreath each time. If the telephone company isn't OK with your plaque, then take it down and forget about it.
posted by smirkyfodder at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2012

You are a pioneer in gentrifying this neighborhood. That means you are going to have to deal with annoying behavior like this and loud parties until a critical mass of your socioeconomic cohorts show up. Alternatively, you might want to move to a neighborhood is already gentrified.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:35 AM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're worried about coming off as a dick to your new neighbors- it's because you're being a dick. Seriously.
It sounds like you have two concerns:
1)You don't like looking at the memorial, because it's an "eyesore."
2)It's illegal to have the memorial, so it is bad and has to be taken down.

The issue of an eyesore is debatable. Yes, faded 99 cent teddy bears aren't pretty. The memorials do tend to get pretty cluttery, too. But you say that the cops clean it up every once in a while, which solves the problem of years of buildup. I mean, SEVEN YEARS is a long time to keep these things up. I know they do things different on whatever shite-bread side of town you came from, but most memorials I've seen fade out in about a year. That people are still coming up to it and leaving personal items shows that this is still an open wound for them. To rub it in their faces as "your grief is ugly and I don't want to see it" is quite revolting. You don't get to decide how people grieve, doubly so if you're gentrifying the neighborhood.
As for the legality issue- obviously the city isn't too worried about it, so why are you? Yes, it might technically be illegal but I've heard cops say that they let it slide as a service to the community.
I'm sorry, but if the cops are showing more heart than you are, I'm pretty sure you're doing something wrong.
posted by shesaysgo at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2012 [20 favorites]

i think the intent behind cleaning it up and leaving something behind is good, but i don't think it's the right answer. you don't know the person who died, you don't know the people who are mourning them. if you were to clear it away and replace it, you could unintentionally cause more offense and hurt (for instance, there might be colors or flowers the family or the deceased hated - you might accidentally step into that).

i know as someone who grew up "rural poor" that if i were maintaining a memorial for 7 years and someone from town moved out to the sticks and started clearing it away, there would be a physical altercation - especially if they hadn't even taken the time to find out who the deceased was or who the grieving family are.
posted by nadawi at 11:51 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're in the legal right, on both the party and the memorial. Fuck 'em, deal with it through the proper legal authorities (telephone company and cops, it sounds like), like any citizen. Being poor or non-white doesn't mean people get to break the law or have parties that are above the legal sound limit, and the people who are acting like it does are even more classist, racist, and generally obnoxious than the gentrifiers they're whining about. Expecting people to obey the law or local regulations is not "educating the heathens how to behave", it's rank codescension and incredibly gross.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not to be crass*, but removing health hazards > family may not like the replacement.

From much experience, I feel confident in saying that cleaning up and replacing isn't just the best answer, but the only one that reliably works. The city will be iffy about cleaning it up, and if the family/neighbours/friends won't come take proper care care of the memorial that they have created, you will need to do it yourself. If they don't like the replacement arrangement, there is nothing stopping them from replacing it with something that they feel is more appropriate. They waved their right to outwardly complain about your replacement choices when they decided that they care enough to build the memorial, but not enough to safely maintain it.

*and depending on the OP's exact situation, I haven't seen this particular manorial and can only go by the ones near my apartment and around the city.
posted by Shouraku at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2012

Where do you live? You may have a Community Relations Commission, or something similar (this is the CRC in my city) and this kind of situation is pretty much what they're designed for. Community beautification efforts (do you have a local Keep America Beautiful affiliate?) are also a way of resolving these things. It helps a lot if the "issue" is bigger than a single given memorial/eyesore/whatever.
posted by SMPA at 12:22 PM on September 18, 2012

Response by poster: Gosh, thanks for all these answers, even the ones that are making negative assumptions, and especially the ones that offered good suggestions. (We have been trying to find out who the decedent was, and who the memorializers are, but no luck so far; the collection really does amount to an eyesore and health hazard after a certain point.) I particularly appreciate the "remove and replace" suggestions - the idea of a memorial bench is especially good, and would probably encourage the mourners to come forward.
posted by mmiddle at 12:35 PM on September 18, 2012

the decedent

You want to be extremely careful not to use language like this when dealing with this situation. Using such dehumanizing language, you come off as not only cold, but like the stereotype of the evil white gentrifier more worried about property values than human lives.
posted by Sara C. at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

Don't you have a local government official, like a city council rep, who has an office that deals with this stuff? In my downtown LA neighborhood, there's a couple of shrines--one to a mom killed in a hit and run and another to a local gangbanger. The city cleans up the Virgin of Guadalupe for the mom and hauls away the empty bottles of Colt 45 at the other place.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:03 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you still consider your neighbors anonymous after seven years' maybe you should just go talk to them face to face.
posted by timsteil at 1:27 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Decedant" is dehumanizing? It's a medical and legal term, so perhaps it is a bit formal, but it means a deceased person.
posted by BrashTech at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

(Er, and it is spelled with three e's, not that anyone is counting.)
posted by BrashTech at 1:29 PM on September 18, 2012

"Decedant" is dehumanizing? It's a medical and legal term, so perhaps it is a bit formal, but it means a deceased person.

It would probably be a fine term if the OP wanted to advocate for installing memorial plaques all over the city, but since there is only one memorial the OP is concerned with that particular deceased person probably had a name that the people interested in having a memorial knew them by.

OP, it's possible there's already some sort of a group that installs durable memorials in your area. If so they can probably do a lot on this in exchange for a donation, and it will probably be cheaper than mediation.
posted by yohko at 1:49 PM on September 18, 2012

Here is another thought experiment that I mean in absolute sincerity. Regarding "remove and replace."

Let's say you have a relative buried in some regular, ordinary cemetery. You bring flowers to her graveside on a pretty regular basis. Almost all of the other graves around hers have, instead of flowers, little rock piles on the tombstone, near the tombstone, etc.. One day you come to find that your flowers/American flag/wreath has been removed. Someone has thoughtfully added, however, a little rock pile, so that the headstone won't be totally vacant.

Would you, in your heart, be cool with this? Then proceed with remove and replace. Or would you think, "gee, the rock people have a lot of nerve?"

Think carefully about health hazard, too. Are you truly afraid that you'll be bitten by a rat, cut by a rusty nail, step on a used needle, slip on a used condom, as a direct result of this memorial? If you are, then proceed accordingly.

But if needles aren't a main feature of the memorial, aren't there many other such health hazards, in this "rapidly improving" neighborhood, that could use some advocacy? You might do more for the public health (and sightliness!) by advocating for rat-proof wastebaskets all along the block.
posted by skbw at 2:22 PM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

I live in a very prosperous neighborhood (the house across the street is on the market for $1.2 mil, if anyone wants to come be my neighbor) and there's a roadside shrine about two blocks away. So, yeah, I know exactly what this is like, and it's neither unique to the "urban poor" or to your neighborhood.

When you see a health hazard or hazard to drivers' or pedestrians' visibility, you call the city. That and contacting your city councilor/alderman to see if they or their staff can broker a good outcome are your only productive options (maybe if your neighborhood has a business improvement district, they might be receptive to your concerns as well).

You're not going to be able to convene a summit with mediators or whatever. You're not going to put up a plaque in honor of someone you don't know. Putting up a sign saying "Please don't put teddy bears here" is going to accomplish nothing. If you find out who is being honored, and by whom, how will that get you any closer to a resolution of the issue? They aren't likely to care what you think of their roadside shrine.

Looking at this 100% pragmatically, there are just very limited options here. I would start (and probably finish) by contacting the city councilor or alderman.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can understand the grief that motivates people to put these types of memorials together. I absolutely hate to look at them, whether in front of a house or alongside the highways, especially when they start looking trashy. But whether or not I hate them is beyond the point. They're put together by people who cared about the individual who died. I'm thinking if you don't like it, tidy it up a bit, leave the newest items, and put something small on the memorial before you leave. You get a cleaner street; they get their memorial respected and taken care of; things are better all around. Demanding that people conform to your standards is not right. It's their neighborhood, too.

Damn, but I hate those tacky things. And DON'T leave me a cross if I die in a car wreck.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:43 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Decedent is a clinical/legal term. It's the polite way of saying "corpse" or "cadaver" that somewhat acknowledges that this lifeless object used to be a person.

(I guess it's possible that mmiddle meant to type the word "deceased"? In which case, apologies.)

If I were to approach a neighbor about something like this, I'd probably start with, "I noticed that memorial over on Park Street is looking pretty sad what with all the rain we've been having. Do you know who it's for?" And then maybe follow up with "Does his family still live in the neighborhood?" and "Wow, he must have really been a fixture in the community, huh?" and stuff that is like two people having a conversation.

You have a couple choices in a situation like this -- either you can actively get involved in a way that makes your neighbors humans and not an indiscriminate mob, or you can decide you'd rather not know them and let stuff like this be. You can't unilaterally take down a memorial and replace it with something else you personally feel would be more appropriate. Not if you want to be welcome in the neighborhood, at least.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on September 18, 2012 [10 favorites]

You can't unilaterally take down a memorial and replace it with something else you personally feel would be more appropriate.

Not to be picky about this, but there is a difference between say, taking down a new teddy bear and putting up a flower arrangement, and taking away something that has (potentially) become a decaying, mold, or critter ridden pile of trash and replacing it with something that is not insect infested.

The same with the analogy of replacing a flower arrangement with a rock arrangement. There is a difference between "I don't like your flower arrangement, so I'm going to put in something prettier" and "The flowers have turned to compost with a skunk living inside of it, and the owners have decided not to clean it up so we are going to throw it out, but to respect that this is a memorial, will leave something in it's place so that the memory is not entirely removed."

Two. Different. Scenarios.

Note: I'm not sure which scenario the OP is dealing with, I don't know him/her. All I am trying to suggest is that there are other reasons for her discontent besides "the OP is a rage-full hating ****", because I live in a community that sometimes has to deal with this (except that none of us are rich(er)).
posted by Shouraku at 3:06 PM on September 18, 2012

Shouraku, the question is framed as "How can we best negotiate an end to this long-running custom?", not "What are best practices for dealing with this stuff as it turns into garbage?"

It's pretty clear from mmiddle's participation in the thread that the intention is to get rid of the memorial or replace it wholesale with something more to his/her liking.
posted by Sara C. at 3:11 PM on September 18, 2012 [10 favorites]

If genuine trash, as in litter, is really the problem, then OP is free to replace every stuffed animal/bouquet/votive candle/beer/note, as it decays, with a similar object of similar value, perhaps even xeroxing, laminating, and reposting the notes. Would the OP like a memorial of new, well-maintained bears, flowers, beer, and votives right near his or her building? That's an option I don't see offered and it might even be agreeable to the regular mourners.

Heaven forbid I should imply that the OP is a rageful, hating whatever. It just sounds like s/he is somewhat new to living with people from different backgrounds. I myself live on St. Nicholas Ave. in Washington Heights, Manhattan, which is a long avenue, so I post it on the internet without fear. I have lived here for 10.5 years and I bought a (middle-income, limited-equity) coop here 3.5 years ago. I am from a family as rich and white as they come. If I can live and let live, then anyone can.
posted by skbw at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

decaying garbage != respect for the dead If you can figure out who died there, maybe you can find the mourner(s), and express your concern "When the stuffed animals fall apart, it looks bad, and makes me feel sad for Mike OWhatsit. How can we keep the site looking proper and respectful of his memory?"

Or, set an example - get some rugged plastic flowers, arrange them, and affix to the pole.
posted by theora55 at 4:05 PM on September 18, 2012

Just a note about plastic flowers:

I leave flowers at 3 memorial sites over the course of each year. I do it knowing the flowers will wilt, die, and decay there. That is, in fact, why I do it.

I don't think removing the memorial items chosen and left by mourners and replacing them with ones that you think look better is an okay thing to do.
posted by broadway bill at 4:19 PM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

There are several comments in this thread that imply that removing dirty/moldy/torn stuffed animals and artificial flowers and replacing them with something new would be disrespectful. I'm curious: is there an expectation among those who leave memorial items at this type of site that their items will not be removed until the same people who left them come back with fresh memorial items? I'm not trying to be snarky. I'm really wondering whether there's something I haven't considered--do people who leave, say, a memorial teddy bear prefer to see their stuffed bear, however muddy and weather-beaten, rather than a new, clean bouquet of artificial flowers?

I ask because, as I stated above, I think that it would honor the person who died (as well as his loved ones' intentions) to replace the tattered memorial items with something new. Indeed, if it were my loved one, I would feel like the community was taking care of his memorial if I periodically saw a new display of memorial items at the site. However, I'm wondering if there's some factor--cultural or otherwise--that I'm not considering. If so, perhaps I should rescind my advice above.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:57 PM on September 18, 2012

As someone who lives in a big dense city and has seen a lot of these, my assumption is that it's one of those weird aspects of magical thinking where you make the memorial, and you bring the stuff, and then you leave and the stuff *just magically stops existing*.

The reality in my city is that the city clears this stuff after a certain amount of time. And in fact the people who build and maintain memorials to bicyclists killed by cars have had conflicts with the city about the right to leave their memorials in place long term.

It sounds from the original question like the memorial is being maintained by someone, even if that just means it gets reinstalled after the city clears it away.
posted by Sara C. at 5:14 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless there are rats running around with half-eaten stuffed animals, this is not a health issue. This is an issue of the neighborhood not fitting your aesthetics. If it's getting too messy, call the city and have them deal with it. And then ignore the whole thing. It's a freaking telephone pole. It's not your fence or garage door or something like that.

PS: Is "urban poor" code for minorities? I'm a poor person living in an urban area, but I don't think you're talking about me.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:15 PM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mod note: A couple comments removed. If something about a question has you getting hot at the asker, maybe skip the thread instead of getting sort of nasty.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:21 PM on September 18, 2012

As far as things go in my city, it's exactly as Sara C. said.

Usually either:

A) People bring kind mementos -> mementos get old and decay to nothing -> family replaces them with newer mementos.

B) People bring kind mementos -> mementos get old and decay and something happens to make them unsafe, so the city comes to clean it up (if we're lucky, public services aren't so great around here) -> family replaces them with newer mementos.

C) People bring kind mementos -> mementos get old and decay near a person's home or place of business, and the home/business owner cleans it up when it gets too much to take (aka: smells really bad or blocks customers from entering) -> family replaces them with newer mementos.

It's generally considered to be rude to "erase" someone else memorial, even if it smells like the dead and is sitting right outside your kitchen window. You really are expected to keep the memorial going in some way for as long as feasibly possible. This usually means replacing what you are forced to remove.
posted by Shouraku at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have no dog in this fight, but I do know that at most public cemeteries, the groundspeople only leave flowers (even elaborate baskets and so on) for as long as is convenient for them. They need to maintain the grass and so on, and, unless there are specific holders or containers for them, will throw away whatever is in their way. I think the very essence of something you'd leave at a gravesite is impermanent, so thinking about the things left at these makeshift memorials should also be considered impermanent. I think disposing of rotting items is fine. I also think that leaving something in place of the rotting stuff is fine — and nothing like the pile of stones example above — because you're not saying "daisies are declasse, here are calla lillies instead," you're saying "I understand grief and respect it."
posted by clone boulevard at 5:30 PM on September 18, 2012

Clone boulevard, I agree about impermanence except for one important detail. OP is not the cemetery groundskeeper here; the city is. This is, by definition, not the OP's individual problem to solve to his/her liking. That is why I take exception.
posted by skbw at 6:04 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

mmiddle: Ours is a diverse urban neighborhood, and this seems to be a custom among the urban poor. The vibe here is not unfriendly, but it's fair to say there is latent resentment of the "rich people" beginning to move in. We called the police this summer when a block party went on too loudly, too long into the night, and heard indirectly that there was anger among the partygoers about that.

This neighborhood has block parties, one of which you found annoying to the extent that you called the police, and seemed a bit taken aback by the resentment you heard about indirectly. Their memorial offends you.

Your right to your opinion is solid. Your sensibilities are your own, and it's not up to me to try to modify them. I urge you to not take it upon yourself to remove the offerings. Those items have meaning that seems to be either irrelevant to you, or are lost on you. There is no win/win situation here for you. You don't fit in with this neighborhood. You should move to a place where your sensibilities are not assaulted by those of your neighbors.

R e s p e c t.
posted by mule98J at 6:30 PM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

I live and work in neighborhoods that have street memorials; I would not get involved with the memorial of a person whom I had not known, particularly if I were new to the neighborhood and perhaps of a different ethnicity, income/education level, or race than my new neighbors. I have lived in gentrifying neighborhoods before, and I think sometimes folks who are interested in being first-wave gentrification forget that there are people already living there, with their own neighborhood cultures and practices. Your neighbors are not a blank slate looking for guidance in conducting their affairs.
posted by catlet at 10:33 PM on September 18, 2012 [21 favorites]

OP, here's one more thought experiment that I don't see explicitly mentioned. I am not implying, God forbid, that you are a bad person for not liking to look at something that's probably real quaint-looking, bordering on ugly. I am just trying to open up some perspectives from the other side.

Do you have any dead relatives? You ever see something in a store, particularly around your holiday of choice, and think, gee, Granny would love that? I still remember getting a candle shaped like a chocolate ice cream cone for my grandmother. In 1982 it was a specialty item, but now it's the kind of thing they have in every...dollar store. So take that and put it next to her memorial lamppost. Do you want anybody messing with that damn candle? Replacing it with a candle shaped like a cheeseburger? (Well, actually the latter would be pretty cool.) Maybe that wouldn't bother you. It would bother a lot of people.

You know the song "Highway Patrolman"? But sometimes, when it's your brother, you look the other way.
posted by skbw at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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