There's lot of talk in Baltimore about the war on drugs. But from the look of things, the trash problem is also worth fighting.
In an attempt to clean up the city, Mayor Martin O'Malley has designated March 24 and 25 "Super Spring Sweep Thing." It's expected to be the city's largest cleanup effort.
In the program, each participating neighborhood association identifies five sites that need cleaning, then organizes volunteers to help clear trash in those areas. City officials provide brooms, shovels, rakes, gloves, trash bags and trucks to haul away the garbage.
To notify residents about the extensive cleanup, Public Works Director George Winfield and other city officials are holding public meetings. The fifth is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Dunbar High School, 1400 Orleans St.
After nine meetings, a final citywide planning session will be held.
"This is just the beginning of a long educational initiative," said Richard Burton, community coordinator in O'Malley's office. "We need to change the mentality of some of our citizens to get them to start wanting to live in a cleaner, healthier environment."
A walk around Baltimore's neighborhoods reveals the need: Broken beer and wine bottles, discarded mattresses and furniture, dead rats, tires, oil cans, animal feces and more litter city streets, the front and back yards of homes, school playgrounds, parking lots, the Jones Falls and abandoned lots.
Compounding the littering problem, many people put their trash outside in plastic bags, easy targets for rats.
That's what O'Malley and others want to change.
About 85 people attended a meeting last week at Northern District police station, where educating the public was stressed. No need to tell Alice Greely-Nelson, Hazel Helmick and Sharon Price. They attended the meeting, and later, during a drive around North Baltimore, said the only way to curb the problem is to get people to care about their city.
"It's educating the young," said Greely-Nelson, president of the Stone Hill Community Association. "Some of these adults don't care, and it's influencing their children."
Helmick, president of the Remington Community Association, said, "It's not just a physical change that we need. We need a mental change about how we want to live."
As Helmick spoke, she navigated her station wagon through streets and alleys, observing mounds of trash. In some areas, small children played near the rubbish as if oblivious to it.
When she stopped the car to show Greely-Nelson and Price what lurked behind several rowhouses on West 28th Street, they were appalled. Everything from old tires to broken glass littered the back yards of the rowhouses, many of them abandoned.
Norma Spruill has lived in a rowhouse in the 300 block of W. 28th St. in Remington for 30 years.
"The guys were working on that property, and the landlord put all those bags of trash out in the back yard," said Spruill, 62, referring to a nearby house. "The neighbors called, and nothing was done. We were afraid somebody would walk out there and throw a match."
The sidewalk in front of Spruill's home is neatly kept, a stark contrast to some others in Remington.
"My husband gets out there every Saturday night and sweeps the block and the gutters down," Spruill said. "Sometimes, he'll go across the street and sweep that down, too. We are concerned about where we live." She places a small trash can at the side of her house to discourage littering.
"When they walk around, sometimes they do use the trash can for their potato chip bags or juice bottles," she said of passers-by.
Spruill applauds the mayor's efforts but said she thinks only the dedicated will participate next month. Burton of the mayor's office hopes that isn't the case.
"We want people to want a cleaner, safer neighborhood for themselves," he said. "Is that too much to ask? Getting people to clean up their neighborhoods should be the least of our worries."
Information: (410) 396-5819.