Council tours blighted neighborhoods

Members shown ills outside own districts

June 20, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Gloria King had seen this before in the 13 years she has lived on Glenwood Avenue: Politicians on a mission coming around her neighborhood and taking notes, making cell phone calls, then moving on.

And here they were again, just a block away, in the 5200 block of Alhambra Ave. taking a firsthand and, for some, a first-time look at the vacant lots and boarded-up houses she sees every day.

"People do that all the time. We need them to actually sit here and do something," said King, 63. "I just pray that they do something and not just walk around, but put some time in it, put some money in it."

Hers was a classic lament, one that 10 Baltimore City Council members heard on the east side and the west side yesterday during a van tour of Baltimore. Billed as the Summer Neighborhood Focus Campaign, the tour hit six districts in six hours. When the council members weren't talking about the city's ills, the women talked shopping, and the men talked trash.

It was all part of an effort to shed their parochialism and see what's happening outside their districts. They stopped by a corner pharmacy in East Baltimore and a struggling block near Druid Hill Park, and they cruised through Mount Auburn Cemetery, where dozens of graves were hidden by waist-high weeds. And by then, they were dog-tired of bumping along the sadder side of Baltimore, the shocks in the Ford Triton transmitting every rut and ripple in the road.

"Yeah, it's time for us to go home," Councilman Keiffer Jackson Mitchell Jr. said around 3:30 p.m. "I've seen enough."

In the end, they talked about needing a plan to revitalize the neighborhoods the same way downtown, Canton and Federal Hill were transformed.

"Strategically speaking, if we don't get a handle on it, we're going to have a city where there are haves and have-nots," said council President Sheila Dixon. "We've got a lot more to do and have to make sure everybody is on the same page."

None of the council members was surprised. Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch said she could have said the same things yesterday that she might have said 25 years ago.

"Nothing has changed," she said. "Crime, grime and education."

At the Highland Pharmacy, Irv Silen came from the behind the counter and gave his surprise visitors an earful of a common complaint: There's too much trash. The more he cleans, the more syringes and containers appear, the discarded detritus of careless humanity. Keeping his area clean is a Sisyphean task.

"Usually when they come by someone's been forewarned, and it gets cleaned up," he said. "Today, it was cleaned up by me. Let them come by 8 o'clock Monday morning, and then you'll see the problem."

In the 5200 block of Alhambra, Councilman Robert Curran was effusive about the blight he'd found for the council's perusal. And to top it off, the city owned some of the vacant, weed-choked lots and the empty, desolate homes.

"You asked to go to blighted areas; that's what I gave," he said. "Hopefully, when we come back next year, it'll look a whole lot different.

For Mitchell, the visit was sobering and embarrassing. People in his city are living as if they were in the Third World.

The folks in the 2300 block of Bryant Ave. have had plenty of attention. They want the city to do something. A porch across the street from Peacolia Jordan collapsed months ago. It's still there. She called about the drain that backs up on the corner, then watched as city crews came by for a look-see before driving away.

"They never came back," she told the council members before they, too, drove off. "Thank y'all so much for coming by." Then, more to herself: "I hope it don't take another five years to get that drain cleaned out."

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