Philly Residents Compete To Tear Down Illegal Signs

In Philadelphia, spring cleaning is a citywide effort. Among other things, residents are heading out Saturday to tidy up utility poles with advertisements for "cash for junk cars" and the like. Elizabeth Fiedler of member station WHYY reports on a competition to tear down as many illegal signs as possible.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Spring cleaning usually means clearing out your closet. But, it's more than that in Philadelphia. Spring-Cleanup is a city-wide effort with residents headed out today to tidy up sidewalks, streets and even utility poles. Many of them are covered with so-called bandit signs, advertising cash for junk cars and the like. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Fiedler reports on a competition to tear down as many of these illegal signs as possible.

ELIZABETH FIEDLER, BYLINE: Some residents use tools like hammers and ice scrapers to pry and pull off the bandit signs. Not Kevin Musselman though. He uses his bare hands to tear down the paper signs plastering a utility pole.

KEVIN MUSSELMAN: It is covered with bandit signs. All of these saying junk cars $400 cash paid.

FIEDLER: Musselman, a 27-year-old community organizer, is taking part in the bandit sign competition. He says he knows someone will be back to put up new signs in no time, but he still rips them down.

MUSSELMAN: It's an eyesore. It's a blight on the neighborhood. It looks ugly.

FIEDLER: A few blocks away, at her post, crossing guard Regina Smith says she sees people stapling bandit signs to the utility poles all the time.

REGINA SMITH: You know what? There's a neighbor who usually passes about this time. He goes around ripping them all down.

FIEDLER: Standing on a busy Center City sidewalk is Christopher Sawyer, the man who's rewarding people for tearing down signs with a contest. Sawyer says he's had some tense run-ins of his own while taking down signs.

CHRISTOPHER SAWYER: I've had physical encounters with people who work with roofers and roofer contractors themselves. You know we get into an argument, you know, it's like, well, that's my property. And I'm like, prove it, you know. It's public space and you didn't pay for this light pole or this street light. It's absolutely illegal. It's Philadelphia City Code 101200, is the law.

FIEDLER: Sawyer, an industrial software developer, watches people in suits and skirts passing through the busy City Center. Sawyer's not surprised by the lack of bandit signs here. He says they're usually concentrated in lower income neighborhoods. He hopes the prizes he's offering motivated residents to take action.

SAWYER: I figure, oh, a color Amazon Fire tablet should, you know, pique enough interest and then also have cash prizes, you know, for second through fourth place. There's no corporate sponsorship. It's all me. I'm doing it all out of my own pocket.

FIEDLER: The city of Philadelphia says it's planning its own crackdown on bandit signs and issuing fines of $75 per sign.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SPRING CLEANING")

FATS WALLER: (Singing) I'll polish the leaves, make them green again. Shake out the trees, change the scene again. Spring cleaning, getting ready for love. Sweep out the nook...

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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