This post is about Provo, UT, though I imagine these issues apply in other places as well.
One of the things that always surprises me about Provo is the number of stray shopping carts strewn about the streets. What surprises me even more is that I most often see these carts outside BYU student housing. It’s puzzling to me why someone (especially a student) would steal a shopping cart. Of course, the obvious excuse is that they don’t have any other way to get their groceries home. Fair enough. Yet, I know plenty of people who don’t have cars or bikes and who don’t steal shopping carts, so I have to consider other reasons. Like maybe students south of BYU campus want their homes to look like a slum. Perhaps they think grocery prices are too low and are trying to get them raised by stealing from stores. Maybe they take some sort of pride in that oh so classy I’m-pushing-a-shopping-cart-down-the-street aesthetic. In any case, stealing a shopping cart is inconsiderate, trashy, and negatively impacts the entire community.
First, having shopping carts discarded all over the city looks terrible. It surprises me that BYU students, the majority of whom come from suburban neighborhoods that have never seen a shopping cart, would be so cavalier about letting their homes look like a slum. I don’t want to get into class issues here, but having stolen shopping carts (or anything stolen, for that matter) all over the place looks decidedly low-class, which I didn’t think was anyone’s desired image. What’s more, if a problem like this persists long enough it can actually contribute to lowered property values, which in turn will do nothing to improve the conditions of already dilapidated student housing.
Besides the trashy appearance of discarded shopping carts, this problem can also translate into higher grocery prices for everyone. For example, if a grocery store loses too many shopping carts they may start requiring a deposit to use them, installing theft prevention technology, or doing any number of things to safeguard their property. The money for these measures will almost certainly be raised through price increases, and nobody wants that.
One of the biggest problems is that this appears to largely be a student issue in Provo. I’m willing to entertain the idea that it’s not students doing this, but the highest concentration of stolen carts is conspicuously in the student residential areas between 9th East and University Ave. Ironically, many BYU students love to complain about Provo city policies. However, how do we expect the city to treat us decently when “we” are actively trashing up the town? Of course the city is antagonistic to students and wants to impose parking fees and the like; students aren’t just failing to contribute, they actively appear to be bringing the community down.
I’m not entirely sure how to solve this problem, other than to raise awareness and outrage over it. If more people realize it’s bothering others, hopefully whoever is taking the carts will stop. We could also try returning the carts when we see them. Ultimately, I know it’s not the majority of BYU students that do this, but it does reflect poorly on us all and frankly, I don’t want to be implicated in something that I find objectionable anyway.