Adding a stroke of color to city life

Mural: City youths roll up their sleeves to help beautify blighted homes along North Avenue.


News From Around The Baltimore Region

August 21, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

Watched by a few motorists stopped at a traffic light on North Avenue near Aisquith Street, a group of youngsters painted a bright, abstract mural on a burned-out rowhouse.

The group from the One World Cultural Arts Society's summer camp was participating last week in a program to transform the weathered plywood covering windows and doors on abandoned buildings along a stretch of North Avenue into something colorful.

The project, which was started this summer by Mayor Martin O'Malley and the East North Avenue Community Development Corp., is seen as a temporary solution to a vexing problem.

"We were trying to come up with something to alleviate the stress of people having to live next to these abandoned homes," said Erich March, president of the East North Avenue Community Development Corporation.

March contacted O'Malley months earlier with the idea of covering the plywood in the eastern corridor of North Avenue. O'Malley expanded March's idea in June and launched the Hilton to Milton Project Beautification, a task of painting the plywood on more than 270 boarded-up dwellings on North Avenue.

Besides the dozen or so children from the arts society camp, more than 150 members of the YouthWorks jobs program also were armed with brushes and rollers this summer. The beautification project was funded by the city and a $5,000 grant from the Abell Foundation.

Last week, Junissa Burgess, 15, stood on a ladder, applying pink paint to a boarded-up window as other youngsters painted polka dots and abstract objects to the boarded-up door.

"This makes the community look good," she said.

Angela Carroll, the art instructor of the mural project, said "a lot of people are really appreciative of the work that is happening, and people would come and bring water and Gatorade."

Neighborhood residents walked by the mural on their way to a nearby bus stop and convenience store. Some stopped to ask what was going on, and others walked closer to get a look at the detail of the painting.

"It looks good," said Anita Paige, 66, a longtime neighborhood resident. Paige said the beautification project helps the community, but she hopes it is temporary.

"I would like to see people living here instead of all this paint," she said.

Monica Greene, an East Baltimore resident, stopped abruptly as she was walking down North Avenue. "This is the first time I've seen it, and it looks really good," Greene said. "This will get rid of the mundane look of boarded-up houses."

Greene's reaction is what organizers of the project are hoping for.

"The reaction has been very positive, but I want to make it clear that this is not to be a permanent solution," March said. "I hope that we will be able to get people in these houses, but in the meantime, it was depressing for people to live next door to five or six boarded-up houses."

The YouthWorks summer job program ended a few weeks ago, and the One World Cultural Arts summer program participants finished their mural Friday.

"When the kids look back, they can say they spent their time making this a better place," O'Malley said.

The face-lift adds to the list of previous beautification projects.

In 1986, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer launched Building Blocks, a $10 million beautification program to board up vacant homes, clean all trash and debris and add paint, making them attractive to potential buyers.

O'Malley said he plans to focus on vacant lots littered with overgrown weeds and debris.

"I'd love to find some sort of groundcover that looks good and the neighborhood would like and does not require us to cut the grass every few weeks," he said.

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