Mayor D. Michael Collins threw the first action-packed punch Thursday as he launched a T-Town Initiative to fight blight, block by block.
Because sections of an East Toledo neighborhood — McKinley Avenue, Butler Street, Navarre Avenue, and Earl Street — looked bad, it was a good place to start.
It’s a jungle out there, several residents said.
In alleys, snakes slither. Long-tailed rodents lurk. Parents warn children to avoid the alleys, but kids will be kids. Some youngsters said they like to explore in those tangles of weeds and grass.
Work crews tamed those jungles Thursday. They trimmed grass, whacked weeds, and cut back overgrown vegetation.
All the noise, traffic, police officers, city trucks, and rolling patching crews were like a magnet. Neighbors ventured outdoors — to help, to praise the mayor, to see what was going on, to applaud the swift improvements.
The initiative was well staffed with 75 city employees. In addition, there were dozens of church members and local volunteers, plus a crew of teens and young adults in a summer job-placement program.
And the project was well equipped: Gloves, safety vests, mowers, weed trimmers, garbage bags, and super-sized equipment.
You could feel the energy, you could hear the excitement.
You could see the transformation, an example of what can take place when talk turns to action, the mayor pointed out. As workers fanned out along nearby streets, Mayor Collins said this sector of the city absolutely needs attention from city hall. Council members, as the mayor noted, were noticeable in their absence.
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The goal of the community effort is to give residents a reason to keep their neighborhoods looking nice, to let residents take ownership and responsibility for the conditions of their properties, resulting in clean, safe, and well-tended sectors of the city, the mayor said.
Plans call for comprehensive attacks on blight in every sector of the city, one neighborhood at a time. The timetable could be one per week.
The success of the launch shows the genuine passion that results in action, rather than spirited verbalization that leads to no action, the mayor said.
“I think it’s great,” said Brenyn Huntley, 27, who admitted his yard looked a tad messy, but his children like to play outside and that’s where toys are kept. Mr. Huntley noted many properties in his neighborhood are vacant and neglected.
As cleanup continued, Mayor Collins said this is what he envisioned when he first came up with the T-Town Initiative as a way to give residents an incentive to continue efforts to rid blight from their neighborhoods.
At the end of the day, it will be up to the neighbors to maintain their properties. Toledo’s tax base is not sufficient to pay city workers to return every two months to repeat the cleanup, he said.
By advancing this T-Town Initiative concept neighborhood by neighborhood, “We can recover our city,” he said.
About 15 volunteers, organized by the East Toledo Family Center, picked up trash and helped out where needed. Jodi Gross, community builder with the family center, said the city will benefit when everyone comes together — city officials, residents, church members, community leaders — to engage Toledo in a process that will make a difference.
Cutting out crime
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Community Service Officer Marquitta Bey said East Toledo as a whole is a blighted area, and that McKinley and Butler had issues of overgrown grass and weeds that increased the odds of criminal activity.
Broken windows encourage criminals as well, providing easy access into vacant houses. On Thursday, volunteers put up plywood to secure doors and windows on neighborhood houses.
“Our hope is neighbors will keep their properties clean and that will reduce crime,” she said. The East Toledo area stood out as a starting-off point because “blight overall was pretty bad,” she said.
From deplorable to adorable, all within a few blocks.
Winning cute points at one house: Samara Lyn Morris, who said she is “about to be 8 in October.” She busily stirred with a stick a cup of homemade “soup” of natural ingredients such as tufts of grass — a traditional summer activity for youngsters who know the thrill of spending time outdoors, doing nothing, doing everything.
Her father, Chris Morris, 28, a general contractor, predicted the neighborhood would embrace the program.
“I believe it’s a great initiative. I believe it will unite us into a community, and that is what we want,” he said. “We do not need vandals breaking things or going about taking things.”
All goes kosher, he said, when all people participate. If one person works and takes care of his property, others will work on theirs. Problems, he said, take place because “somebody somewhere was not taught the value of things.”
Although blight exists in this sector, neighbors do what they can to care for their properties. Several families who live near Mr. Morris get together for cookouts and to take part in recreational games such as bean-bag toss. Some residents have pools and welcome neighbors to swim, said Mr. Morris, who is pleased by the interaction.
“We have all become a second family. We keep tight in our community,” Mr. Morris said. “With what the city is coming and doing with its initiative, it will make our community even stronger.”
Neighborhoods are selected for the Toledo Neighborhood T-Town Initiative based on strong community involvement demonstrated by the residents, such as the efforts of the East Toledo Family Center and its One Voice initiative that are making a difference in the city.
The next T-Town Initiative is next week in a South Toledo neighborhood.
Also Thursday, about 70 employees of Hickory Farms participated in their annual community service day and volunteered to dedicate their efforts on behalf of Toledo.
Mulching playgrounds, staining tables and benches, edging and cleaning sidewalks in Ottawa Park as well as in front of the Toledo Police Museum and the Ottawa Park Police Substation were some of the volunteer activities planned.
And today a new partnership is to be announced to help address a big contributor to blight: Vacant homes that are stripped of plumbing, siding, wiring, or other materials. Ensuring homes can be restored requires a greater focus on stopping house stripping.
The city is trying to reverse the trend of demolishing, rather than restoring, properties.
The city and Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing are announcing a partnership in which the housing corporation will donate funds to create an award fund that will pay up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who stripped metal or who stole/salvaged materials from a house without permission of the property owner.
The top award of $1,000 is intended for felony breaking and entering charges; a minimum award of $100 is intended for metal theft.
The public is encouraged to call 911 to report house stripping activity in progress and to follow up later by calling 419-936-2020 to report information about suspects.
Contact Janet Romaker at: email@example.com or 419-724-6006.