Cleaning house takes on new meaning when it applies to communities, the municipal “home” of residents and businesses.
Organized clean ups of parks, empty lots, streets, even whole neighborhoods signal a new vitality and spirit in many older urban areas, including Gary and East Chicago, where decay has gained a foothold over the last several decades.
In both north Lake County cities, the efforts are tied to economic revitalization, attracting new residents and businesses to the urban centers.
That spirit of cleaning up a community to keep it vital for residents and businesses also thrives in suburban municipalities, including Winfield, where collection days for household waste can take on a festive atmosphere.
Starting in the centers
“Old doesn’t mean it has to be dirty,” East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland told more than 40 city workers and volunteers who gathered earlier this month to participate in the Community Clean-Up in the Indiana Harbor section of East Chicago.
His program “seeks to pull the community together into cleaning up the area. It’s a holistic approach,” Copeland said.
“The first impression someone has coming into a city is a lasting one. Even if you’re cash-strapped, you don’t have to have dirt,” Copeland said. “This cleanup will be carried throughout the city every weekend from early spring to late fall.”
During that clean-up event, the volunteers spread out along Broadway and Main Street to pick up trash, pull or spray weeds and sweep the sidewalks.
In September, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson worked alongside former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and dozens of other volunteers for a 10-block area clean-up of the city’s 3rd District that included Tolleston Park.
"I call it 'deep cleaning’,” Freeman-Wilson said of the fourth event this year as part of her 5x5x5 Neighborhood Revitalization Cleanup.
City service departments and volunteers banded together to clean-up a workable section of the city. Then residents and city services maintain the improvement.
The mayor said she adapted the idea from a similar effort in Macon, Ga. that focuses on improving five blocks at a time.
Gary Councilwoman Mary Brown represents the 3rd District and “doubled that (five-block) area, but that's OK," Freeman-Wilson said.
Both Copeland and Freeman-Wilson said the clean up efforts were part of a larger plan to revitalize the communities.
The Oct. 22 clean up in Indiana Harbor served as the kickoff for The Harbor Project announced by Copeland.
A citywide revitalization plan, The Harbor Project is designed to identify renovations, new construction and opportunities for long-term economic development, he said, adding that the overall goal is to enhance the market potential for public and private sectors of East Chicago.
Restoring historical facades, creating partnerships, investment in the city and “re-establishing the economic engine of the downtown area” are among the ways to meet the goals of The Harbor Project, the mayor said.
Freeman-Wilson said the 5x5x5 project includes demolishing vacant buildings.
City officials are talking with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state about obtaining federal money to address the city's abandoned buildings.
“It comes at $500,000 or $1 million at a time," Freeman-Wilson said during the clean up effort. "It sounds like a lot of money, but taking the magnitude, it really is a drop in the bucket."
In addition, some of that federal money could also be used for rehabilitation of properties as residences, the mayor said.
“We have to increase (the number of) residents in this community and throughout the city in order to provide sustainable growth,” she said.
Better quality of life
Whether the community has been around for more than a century or is just 20 years old, keeping the streets, sidewalks, yards and business areas clean through municipal and volunteer programs helps maintain the quality of life. That, in turn, helps attract and maintain businesses that employ residents and provide services needed in every community.
On Saturday, the Town of Winfield sponsored Winfield Clean Up Day from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the back parking lot of the government complex along Randolph Street.
Residents were encouraged to recycle, donate and dispose of materials that tend to clutter homes and garages.
“We will have dumpsters, electronics recycling for up to three items and latex paint recycling,” said Councilwoman Paulette Skinner prior to the event. “There is also secure document paper shredding.”
The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries were on hand to receive donations including clothing, toys and cooking utensils. Residents also brought non-perishable food and cleaning supplies to stock the Winfield Township Food Pantry and pet food, supplies and blankets for the Lake County Animal Shelter.
Whatever size and location the community, “It’s going to take all of us,” said Copeland. “It takes a village to keep the village clean.”