Commentary: The People’s Park Freebox is a Nuisance By SHARON HUDSON

Friday October 21, 2005

I fully support UC’s removal of the clothing box at People’s Park. That the free box was an effective distribution system for used clothing for the poor is an illusion. After the ambitious entrepreneurs had taken the best clothes for resale, the rest were ruined, usually within hours, by rain, dirt, and careless handling. Thus the noble experiment became, ironically, a continuing demonstration of “Darwinian” capitalism and waste—two things supporters of the free box surely decry.  

I too am sorry the experiment didn’t work out, but it didn’t. And for the many nearby residents not directly benefiting from it, most of whom are themselves lower-income people already tolerating more than their share of litter, visual clutter, and social “vibrancy,” the box became the very definition of an “(un)attractive nuisance,” detracting further from their marginal urban environment.  

I like the concept of a free clothing exchange—or for that matter, the free exchange of all “previously owned” items in our over-consuming society; it would be very nice if this were possible. Flea markets and garage sales are the closest thing we have to this; then come the nonprofit thrift stores such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill. To administer these in an organized manner that serves both patrons and donors requires work and resources, so they are not free.  

I understand that even their low prices may be too high for some people. Unfortunately, however, there can be no benign “free” exchange of goods in the public sphere because any such activity, in order to remain effective and non-detrimental, requires substantial organization and policing; this takes money and/or the relentless volunteer services of capable, dedicated people. Except for the (inadequate) managing and cleanup of the free box site provided involuntarily by the taxpayers, that oversight was missing at People’s Park, with the result that the exchange benefited a few but was damaging to everyone else. 

If, however, some charitable person or organization wishes to provide such a service, and will accept legal responsibility for running the program properly and assuring that it is not detrimental to the community (I think some churches already provide similar services), I am sure some altruistic council member will be happy to volunteer a location in his or her district that is appropriate for a clothing exchange. I suggest that Southside not be considered again at this time, since Southside has provided this service for several decades now. It’s only fair to give some other neighborhood an opportunity to facilitate this excellent idea, once the bugs are worked out. Any volunteers? 


Sharon Hudson is a People’s Park neighbor.