More than 1,000 tons of wilted garbage cling to Baltimore's streets and alleys, a constant reminder of the city's urban woes.
Beginning tomorrow, some 4,000 street-cleaning, T-shirt-clad volunteers armed with rakes, shovels, brooms, bags and gloves will tackle the scattered eyesores that foster rodents, repulse residents and repel homebuyers.
At 9 a.m., more than 50 churches have agreed to chime their bells to sound the beginning of Mayor Martin O'Malley's two-day Super Spring Sweep Thing. Activists in 200 city neighborhoods will stoop over heaps of soaked cups, pillows, clothes, broken beer bottles and other errant grime.
"I see trash all the time. I can no longer drive around the city and have an enjoyable drive. I take it personally now," O'Malley said. "There's nothing that should stop you from sweeping in front of your house. Don't tell me it's up to the government."
But the government is providing 797 rakes, 800 brooms, 797 shovels, 19,920 trash bags and 3,984 gloves. Mary Boser, president of the Monroe Community Association, recently stood with her arms folded over a waist-high pile of rubbish in front of an abandoned home in her southern Baltimore neighborhood. It's one of the sites she and others will try to clear tomorrow.
"I don't know if we'll be able to clean this in two days," Boser said. "We could use a clean sweep like this every month."
Activists from each community identified five cleanup sites in their areas -- a total of 1,000 of the city's 4,056 miles of sidewalk and alleys.
In addition to 3,000 community volunteers, 1,000 city employees are donating their time for the big sweep. Also volunteering helping hands and equipment are neighboring municipalities, including Baltimore County, Annapolis and Ocean City.
Sixty Baltimore businesses, including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Maryland Waste Services, Esskay, Schmidt Bakery, Cockey's Trash, Calvert Trash and Pepsi, are contributing trash trucks and other resources.
People like Patricia DiTommasso, president of Brooklyn Homes Tenant Council, are thankful. She and six other volunteers plan to whittle down a trash pile in the 900 block of Dantrey Court.
"It's just horrible-looking. I don't know whose property it is," DiTommasso said. "It's got tires and everything -- everything -- you can think of. It's been bad since last year, and I have to look at it every time I go to my car."
Public Works Director George Winfield estimated volunteers will pick up 1,000 tons of trash tomorrow and Saturday.
That may seem like an exorbitant amount, but every day, the solid waste department drops 1,300 tons at the city dump at the Quarantine Road Landfill and another 750 tons go to Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems to be recycled.
That's because most of the 200,000 households in the city drop two or three cans of garbage out for pickup every three to four days.
Super Spring Sweep Thing is not a day for people to clean out their attics and garages, Winfield said. The city is not doing extra bulk pickup today or tomorrow.
Garbage collector Michael Dairsow, 42, said he's seen the city become more trash-laden in the 10 years he's worked here. Dairsow is working overtime this weekend in the northern part of town to pick up the extra trash bags generated by the cleanup. And he doesn't mind a bit.
"It will make my job much easier," said Dairsow, who collects trash from about 1,000 homes a day. "We won't have to step over as much trash when we get the cans."
Ken Strong, former head of the city's bureau of solid waste, said anyone driving around the city will see trash in the street. He noticed the city looking especially dirty after this year's snowfall.
"I'm thrilled O'Malley has made a call to citizens," said Strong, director of the South East Community Organization. "The potential for cleanup is much greater when you tap that resource. There's a practical limit as to how much sanitation workers can clean up."
A lot of the trash problem comes from illegal dumping and litter. Unscrupulous landlords and contractors sometimes drop waste next to vacant buildings or on the side of the street instead of paying to dump it at a legal site.
Litter also accumulates across the city when people drop empty food bags and other trash on the ground instead of in garbage cans. Especially in left-hand turn lanes, Winfield said.
"While people are waiting for the light to change, they open their car doors and dump an ashtray or set a bottle out," Winfield said. "Go to most left-turn lanes and you will find litter."
Former Mayor William Donald Schaefer said O'Malley has the right idea to get people energized over trash, because keeping a city clean is a pride issue.
"A clean city is almost as important as a safe city, psychologically," said Schaefer, the state comptroller. "When you see a dirty city, you don't care, and you throw trash down. There are certain neighborhoods where that doesn't happen. Where they don't allow that to happen."