An epidemic of cracks

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


revmunsonThe expression “falling through the cracks” takes on new meaning when you’re a city neighborhoods reporter.
I stood on Centre Avenue in the Hill District this morning with Rev. Tyrone Munson (left) of the Historic Olivet Baptist Church looking at a crack that, if left to its own devices, would eventually swallow a little kid. And we know it will be left to its own devices because..... why?
That’s right: Because sidewalks are the responsibility of the owners of properties fronting those sidewalks. If the city owns the property, its crews might get around to it when they can afford to.
But if the sidewalk is in a neighborhood that is already falling through the cracks it might take a little longer. That’s just how influence works.
Rev. Munson has gotten a Love Your Block grant of $1,000 from the city to try to take on more than a dozen weedy lots between Soho and Chauncey Streets on Centre.
He has assembled numerous partner organizations and expects 30-40 volunteers on Saturday. But we’re talking lots — whole fields, in some cases — of strapping sumacs amid shoulder high grasses that cloak all sorts of stuff people have dumped.
Rev. Munson so far has a lawn mower and a weed eater that he bought. Love Your Block support comes as a $1,000 gift card from Home Depot.
“We’re going to try to get as much of this as we can,” he said.
One good thing about Love Your Block is that it gets people who have a stake in a place involved in its upkeep.
But this job will be daunting based on the supplies the volunteers have. Worse than having a to live with weeds and blight is to feel powerless against it.
I can’t help but think the city could level all those weeds in a couple of hours with a couple of brush hoggers for around $1,000.    
A resident who lives near the church said the city had been out once this summer and cut some weeds. It cuts its own lots when it does cut them; residents are at the mercy of owners who don’t and in too many neighborhoods, thousands of property owners have no mercy.
“This is a major traffic corridor,” Rev. Munson said as we stood watching cars zip by. He said it as if he couldn’t get his mind around why a weedscity would let such a visible road become so degraded.
Shouldn’t it resonate with people in power that this reflects badly on us all? Shouldn't the city go ahead and cut the weeds of lots it doesn't own for the public good? 
Blighted buildings, weedy lots and cracked, weedy sidewalks are images etched and re-etched in the brains of passersby daily. Cities spend a lot of time, money and human capital fighting bad images. And as we all know, sometimes those images take decades to overcome.
I wonder what that costs. I suspect a lot.
As Rev. Munson and I talked, drivers regularly honked and waved at him. He is out there cutting weeds himself with a regularity that his bad back allows. And he is trying to save the historic church from some building issues.
"A major corridor," he said, toeing some sidewalk rubble and wagging his head.
I noticed the chicory plants growing between the curb and sidewalk (above). They came to my knees. You could almost lose a little kid in them.


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