Cynthia Gross remembers when a vacant lot on North Duncan Street in East Baltimore was used as a dumping ground for unscrupulous contractors discarding old building materials from rowhome renovations, or lazy landlords dumping mattresses and other items after an eviction.
But the lot is now clear, Gross said, after residents took action and began reporting illegal dumping. She said they became empowered after they learned about the options available to them, as well as some pictures posted to Facebook that captured the violators in the act.
"Once you get people engaged, it's harder for people to do. People stop feeling like it's OK" to leave trash, she said.
The proactive approach is one that city officials are hoping to replicate with a new initiative called Clean Corps, which relies on residents to get their neighbors involved through door-to-door campaigns, getting blocks to organize regular street or alley cleanups and taking pledges to make the city cleaner.
"This goes beyond and further than just print advertising. It really is about engaging residents," said Alice Kennedy, the city's sustainability coordinator.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced the new initiative at the 16th annual "Mayor's Fall Cleanup" held Saturday at North Linwood Avenue and Pulaski Highway, where volunteers gathered to pick up trash, plant trees and paint signs over storm drains.
"The city of Baltimore, like many cities across the country, faces issues that plague our streets, create health issues, pollute our waterways and reduce property values. Litter can be found blowing across the streets of Baltimore. It's just wrong, and we know that we can do better," Rawlings-Blake had told the group of volunteers.
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While different neighborhood groups have formed their own programs to combat litter, she said the new program will recognize those existing efforts and help them coordinate with other groups and city resources.
"The goal is to connect residents and businesses across the city so that no single neighborhood feels alone in their efforts to keep the city streets clear," Rawlings-Blake said.
After speaking, she helped teens stencil the phrase "A Healthy Harbor Starts Here" over one storm drain that had been painted blue with colorful fish and crabs.