Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
The popular garbage-sifting water-wheel is in good spirits, despite the wind-related injury.
Place-branding campaigns might be risky business for cities, but anthropomorphizing a charismatic piece of waste infrastructure? That’s PR gold.
Fourteen feet tall and vaguely crustacean in looks, Baltimore’s trash-sifting water wheel won over green-minded locals when first installed in the city’s Inner Harbor in 2014. But when its overseeing organization, Healthy Harbor Initiative, slapped on a temporary pair of giant googly eyes last Halloween, “Mr. Trash Wheel” (as it’s known on Twitter) truly captured hearts and minds. More than 1,500 people petitioned for permanent peepers, based on their ability to make environmentalism more appealing. “These googly eyes could save the planet,” they wrote. When a local light festival rolled around in March, Healthy Harbor Initiative didn’t miss a beat, and gave Mr. Trash Wheel a new, LED-lit pair.
All of which helps explain the intense interest around the wheel’s well-being since last Saturday. At the height of the festival, with Mr. Trash Wheel’s built-in conveyor-belt glowing purple, a strong gust of wind unceremoniously blew off its left eyeball. (Watch slow-motion video footage above; it is at once distressing and weirdly hilarious.) Concerned Baltimoreans reached out on Twitter right away: “Oh no! Are you okay?” one asked. “Wait... so does this mean you had to eat your own eye??” another quite rationally wondered.
But Mr. Trash Wheel supporters can rest easy. The five-foot-wide aluminum blinker was found Tuesday afternoon in the Jones Falls by the National Aquarium and Clearwater Mills, “the company that invented and operates the water wheel,” according to the Baltimore Sun. And yes, Mr. Trash Wheel will get its full vision back.
“This obviously revealed some flaws in our design approach and we are making modifications," Healthy Harbor Initiative director Adam Lindquist told the Sun. "We plan to have the eyes back up and running in a couple weeks."
In the interim, Mr. Trash Wheel is sporting an eye-patch (at least in its Twitter profile picture) and seems to be in good spirits. And as far as we can tell, Saturday’s trauma has not affected its ability to collect literally tons of trash every day.
Bad news: I lost an eye. Good news: I now can do a killer Natty Boh impression. pic.twitter.com/PUtpxZ62lP— Mr. Trash Wheel (@MrTrashWheel) April 3, 2016