Dixon’s First Order Of Business: Trash

John Fritze, Baltimore Sun, Jan. 26, 2007

Affordable housing, access to health care and a new crime strategy are on her agenda, but more and more, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon is talking trash.

Litter—floating in the Inner Harbor, cluttering the alleys of Park Heights and tumbling along Harford Road—has become a central concern of Dixon’s fledgling administration, an issue the mayor says speaks to the city’s broader quality of life.

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Mark Willis, a Department of Public Works laborer, was one of several dozen workers who met with Dixon before the morning routes got under way. Willis said the city needs to remind residents about pickup schedules and teach them how to place trash out for collection.

“They don’t know how to put their trash out. The older people, they know how to do it. The younger generation, they just throw the bags over the fence with the bags untied,” Willis, 45, told Dixon as the group stood in a parking lot before sunrise. “There’s plenty of confusion going on, and we’re getting overworked.”

Trash and litter re-emerge d as an issue at City Hall last year as the City Council worked its way through the budget. Robert W. Curran, who sat on the council then and is now its vice president, called on O’Malley to use $2 million of a projected budget surplus for overtime and additional alley cleaning. Curran said the city still has a long way to go toward addressing the problem.

“It’s not just the visual pollution, it’s also unsanitary. It causes the city to have a tarnished image,” Curran said. “I see folks dumping illegally. It’s just horrible.”

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As Dixon rode through the city’s northwest neighborhoods yesterday, she noted the examples of litter she hopes to eliminate—wrappers and cans lining Druid Hill Park, pizza boxes and clothes along Reisterstown Road, a large, red couch dumped on its side in an alley.

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Jerk chicken and matzo? In most parts of Baltimore that might be a difficult combination to find, but not in the northern community of Park Heights, where African-American, Jewish and Russian residents share commercial and residential blocks. The diverse area has battled poverty and divisiveness, but now appears to be undergoing a revival as community groups cross racial and ethnic lines to work toward economic growth and a safer environment.

Geography of a Community

Park Heights is bordered to t he north by Slade Avenue, to the east by Greenspring Avenue, to the south by Park Circle and to the west by Wabash Avenue (or the Western Maryland Railroad right-of-way).

Highway boundaries indicate more than just neighborhood lines. Northern Parkway bis ects the neighborhood. African-American residents traditionally live to the south of the busy highway and white residents tend to occupy the north.

Building and Rebuilding

Before the neighborhood’s downturn in the late 1970s (resulting from sever al plant closings and an upsurge in violence in Baltimore), Park Heights easily attracted new residents. Baltimore’s largest neighborhood—with a population of more than 40,000 in 2000 and occupying 1,737 acres—began the 20th century as home to Russian imm igrants and Jewish residents. In the 1950s, the Jewish presence multiplied as Jews of other national origins moved to the city’s periphery. Further ethnic shifts occurred with an influx of African-American residents in the 1960s. Most recently, the neighb orhood has become home to Baltimore’s largest Jamaican community. The area along Garrison Avenue up to Northern Parkway is known as Little Kingston. However, the Jewish community has remained strong throughout the population shifts, as documented in local historian and author Gilbert Sandler’s “Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Neighborhood community groups constantly strive to renew Park Heights through initiatives for home ownership and beautification. These init iatives are intended to attract new residents and businesses.

Current revitalization efforts can be traced to the early 1970s when Park Heights was first established as an urban renewal project. The campaign gained form in 1975 with the publishing of the booklet, “A New Life for Park Heights,” by Moshe Safdie. Safdie, a well-known architect and urban planner, originally wanted to redesign two square miles of the neighborhood, refurbishing transportation systems and residential and commercial areas. Howev er, the booklet’s main focus was on a plan for the residencies.

The rebuilding focused on the residential 4700 block of Reisterstown Road. The block remains a continuing community project that has cost $2.6 million, mostly raised from a combination of fe deral, state and city grants. Forty-seven houses with white siding and neatly kept yards stand out in an area filled with homes in disheveled disrepair and boarded up windows.

Urban renewal projects continued in the 1980s and ‘90s. In 1987 CHAI: Comprehe nsive Housing Assistance, Inc., a non-profit housing-focused agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, began an extensive revitalization project. In 1992 the Park Heights Corridor Task Force was created from an amalgamation of va rious neighborhood groups. That Task Force helped retain a $10,000 public grant, matched with a $7,500 state grant for the community.

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As a community, Park Heights may have faced more obstacles than many Baltimore neighborhoods. However, revitalization efforts could aid its progress in becoming one of Baltimore’s more culturally rich and ethnically diverse up-and-coming areas.

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