A Perfect Day For Tidying Up

In Spring, City Residents' Thoughts Turn To Neighborhood Cleanups

April 19, 2009|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

As Remington Stone and his neighbors patrolled the alleys of Reservoir Hill on Saturday, he could see a sign of a neighborhood on the upswing. Compared with past years, he wasn't seeing as much residue of the drug trade.

Stone was one of about 5,000 people in communities across the city who turned out on a brilliant, cloudless spring morning for Baltimore's annual Spring Cleanup.

It was a day for city residents to come together, pull on work gloves, pick up brooms and rakes and enjoy a sense of shared purpose, neighborliness and urban camaraderie.

Of course, this being Baltimore, there was also the other side of city life.

"I'm not a big fan of seeing rats running around. And they're huge," said K.C. Cloyd, who was participating in her first city cleanup after moving from a small town in upstate New York to the 2200 block of Linden Ave. a couple of months ago.

"It's a little bit different from what I'm used to," she said. "I had never really seen rats before."

The group that gathered on Whitelock Street in Reservoir Hill was a reflection of Reservoir Hill's position as a neighborhood teetering on the edge between gentrification and deterioration. Black, white and Asian residents worked to clean up blocks shared by magnificent brownstones and boarded-up rowhouses. The cleaners included young urban pioneers and elderly longtime residents - mingling with apparent ease.

Mayor Sheila Dixon stopped by several of the neighborhood events, including the one in Reservoir Hill. Speaking at the kickoff of the cleanup, she sang the praises of a community she called one of the city's best-kept secrets.

"If you were in D.C. and wanted to purchase one of these brownstones, you would pay $1 million for just a shell," she said, exaggerating perhaps a little.

Dixon, who has made a "cleaner, greener" Baltimore one of the themes of her administration, took advantage of the event to talk trash. She urged residents to get behind her pending One PLUS ONE proposal to cut back on garbage collections while roughly doubling recycling pickups.

"It's going to help us save the environment for the future," she said. "It just takes a little effort."

From Reservoir Hill, Dixon made her way to the Park Heights Community Garden in the 3300 block of Woodland Ave., where several dozen residents and city officials gathered for that neighborhood's cleanup effort. Across from a row of abandoned homes slated for demolition, community residents were preparing to turn a trash-strewn vacant lot into a community garden.

Dixon praised officials and residents for their efforts to revitalize what she called "a very challenging area."

"To take this lot and turn it into a jewel of a vegetable and fruit garden is just going to enhance these efforts," Dixon said.

At her various stops, the mayor urged residents to follow up on the cleanup day's activities with continuing action - such as watering the trees the city has planted until they can thrive on their own.

"It goes back to: Where is that personal responsibility?" Dixon said.

City officials estimated that 5,000 people had accepted that challenge in 240 communities around Baltimore.

Back in Reservoir Hill, long after the speeches were over and city officials were gone, Cathy Maulsby, Jawauna Greene and Leslie Conyers were clearing out trash from a lot that has been turned into a community garden.

Maulsby, a Mount Vernon resident whose boyfriend is rehabbing a house in Reservoir Hill, explained why she was devoting a brilliant Saturday to hauling garbage.

"Someone's got to get rid of it, so it might as well be me," she said.

Maulsby said she chose her chore over alley duty because "the garden was more my style" and the cleanup would likely last longer. She said her haul of debris included metal work, glass bottles and diapers.

"We had a crack vial. That was the grossest we've seen so far today. Just your run-of-the-mill urban trash," she said.

Stone, a five-year Reservoir Hill resident who was loaded down with biodegradable paper trash bags, said the cleanup work seems to get lighter with each event. In addition to less drug paraphernalia, he said, he was also seeing fewer dead rats than in the past.

"Compared with two, four, six years ago, everything's getting better," he said.

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