It started out as a harmless exercise in community service and turned into a rather interesting morning in MorningSide.
Today was officially the annual spring cleanup in our east side Detroit neighborhood and I participated along with many neighbors, business owners, and youth volunteers. Some painted buildings along East Warren Avenue, others picked up trash along the busy thoroughfare and a group of us targeted one of the most blighted blocks in the area, a section of Three Mile Drive that has been an eyesore since I moved into the neighborhood. A little progress was made there.
We picked up tires and carpet and trash. Much of the debris was illegally dumped, and the rest discarded by people either living or hanging out on the block. Most of the houses are vacant, and by mostly, I mean all but about five. Three of those look vacant. In fact, I was cleaning up leaves and trash from a yard for about 20 minutes at one run-down property, then same two people walk up, knock on the door and then go inside. I couldn't believe that people actually lived there, not to mention that others walked past me, saw me cleaning up and didn't even break pace. It was as if someone was supposed to be there cleaning up after them.
I understand that the block's condition is due in no small part to the high percentage of renters there. The responsible, I assume, homeowners have long left.
This was the third time I worked to clean up the block. Twice previously I found myself so sickened by the condition I grabbed equipment and bags and went down the street with some neighbors and cleaned up. Residents of the block sat on their porches as we cleaned, not bothering to help. Eventually, the trash built back up and our work proved for naught.
But today we engaged residents to participate. One of my neighbors and I walked up to a group of residents standing in front of a home and to ask if they wanted to help. As we approached I noticed that one of the young men in the group was smoking a blunt. Mind you, this was at 10 a.m. At that point I was about to reconsider my decision, when my neighbor forged ahead and made the ask. I was surprised to hear that they would join us later, and even more shocked when they actually did. And once they did, I noticed that their friends, as they trickled through to hang out, decided to help. Finally, progress, I think.
It was sort of like a scene from a Friday movie. People getting high in the morning and deciding to do some community service with the neighbors. I expected Ice Cube or Dave Chappelle to show up at some point. But it didn't happen. Instead we filled up a huge dumpster full of debris, and we made a dent. The properties are still vacant and boarded up, or left standing and decaying. But there is less trash.
I am left wondering whether instead of rallying the city around cleaning up trash we should instead be investing in generating a greater level of personal responsibility. This exercise seems to be as much about (if not more) getting volunteers out to do work that leaves them feeling good about themselves. This clearly is not working.
What we need is a get off your ass and act like you give a damn about your city -- or leave it campaign. That is the only one I'm signing up for in the future.