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Neighborhood Walking Guide

  My neighborhood is not a nice place to walk, there is trash everywhere and the buildings are not kept up.

People want to walk in a pleasant environment and a clean neighborhood sends a message of pride and respect. When trash and vacant or dilapidated homes or buildings are commonplace, people may be discouraged from walking in your neighborhood. Not only do trash and dilapidated buildings make a neighborhood look ugly and intimidating, but, according to the National Training and Information Center, they can also:
• Attract wild dogs and vermin;
• Signal to criminals that residents in this neighborhood do not care, which can be interpreted as an invitation for criminal activity;
• Provide places for criminals, gangs, and drug dealers to hang out, especially in vacant buildings;
• Attract vandalism and graffiti;
• Pose a fire hazard; and
• Bring down the values of surrounding properties.
A number of steps can be taken to keep your neighborhood clean and looking attractive. Click on any of the following links to find out more.

Keep your neighborhood clean
Organize a Neighborhood Clean-up Day
Be sure your community has a littering ordinance
Develop a dumping prevention program
Report abandoned buildings and vehicles to your local government
Request more resources to eliminate abandoned or dilapidated buildings
Encourage funding resources and redevelopment plans
Put a stop to graffiti and vandalism (links to Issue 5: Afraid of Crime)


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Keep your neighborhood clean
Littering and graffiti is a sign of disrespect to you, your neighbors, and your community. Keep sidewalks, streets, alleyways, backyards and lots clean at all times. In addition to keeping the area around your home clean, here are four simple ways that you can help keep your neighborhood clean:
    Keep the sidewalk and the street in front of your home or business free of litter
    Don't sweep trash, leaves, or lawn clippings into the street. Instead, put litter and yard waste into a garbage bag for disposal or composting.

    Set an example
    When you go on a walk around your neighborhood, take a small trash bag along with you. If you see a piece of trash, pick it up. You'll set a great example for your neighbors, especially the children in your neighborhood.

    Get to know the local sanitation crew
    Personal contact with sanitation staff may be a good way to get a problem solved. Let them know you care and write a letter of praise to their superiors when they do a good job.

    Alert the police of problem areas or when illegal dumping occurs
    If litter is repeatedly dumped in certain areas, notify the police and provide them with as much detail as possible about the problem and the problem area.

Organize a Neighborhood Clean-Up Day
If trash has been building up in your neighborhood for some time and has become a very noticeable problem, then a Neighborhood Clean-Up Day might be a good idea. A Neighborhood Clean-Up Day increases neighborhood awareness and creates a solid foundation to keep your community clean over a long period of time. Clean-Up Days also create a sense of community, friendship, and pride among the residents of your neighborhood. Follow these four steps to initiate a Clean-Up Day in your neighborhood:
    Step 1
    Get started by contacting your Homeowners Association or another neighborhood-based association or organization. Offer to help organize a neighborhood clean-up day and get them excited about supporting this effort. Enlist the aid from near-by school or church youth groups, scouting organizations, business groups, or other community groups. Form a clean-up committee of five or more neighborhood volunteers. Walk around the neighborhood and take detailed notes on the problems that you see - identify the clean-up boundaries and your clean-up needs.

    If your neighborhood does not have a neighborhood organization, contact your city or town hall to find out how to start such a group in your community, or skip to the next step and really get the word out to your neighbors about what you want to do. Chances are that they will want to help out.

    Step 2
    Once you know what needs to be done, pick a date and a time for the Clean-Up Day. Most groups choose a weekend in the spring or the fall since this is when more people are available and the weather is best for outdoor clean-up work. The more neighborhood volunteers, the more successful the project, so get the word out about the event at your neighborhood association meetings and around your neighborhood early on. Use flyers, e-mail, and word of mouth to publicize the event around the neighborhood. Sign up interested volunteers and identify and contact local groups, businesses, and municipal departments for donations or assistance. Let everyone voice their opinions and suggest what needs to be done. Coordinate with sanitation officials to provide additional dumpsters and to haul away the collected trash at the end of the Clean-Up Day.

    Step 3
    When the Clean-Up Day Arrives, arrange for all volunteers to gather in a local park or public place and "kick off" your Clean-Up Day with a pep-talk. Divide volunteers up into teams for specific tasks. Give people a chance to meet and socialize with people they ordinarily would not. It is a good idea to assign people to tasks in their immediate area - if possible on their block. Supply the teams with plastic bags, recycling bags, gloves, and containers. Make sure they can distinguish between recyclable and non-recyclable materials. Try to provide refreshments to workers, hold a neighborhood block party after the clean-up, and ask a local movie theater to donate free passes in appreciation for the clean-up volunteers or hold a raffle with donated items from local businesses.

    Step 4
    Now that you have a beautiful neighborhood, don't let all your hard work go to waste! Ask your local officials to post official "No Dumping" signs in areas that are prone to dumping. You can also look into blocking vehicle access to areas that are prone to dumping by planting trees or installing other obstacles and you can request additional lighting for these areas since most dumping takes place at night. Organize or work with an existing Neighborhood Block Watch group to be on the lookout for illegal dumping. Work with police to have them patrol these areas around the times you think the illegal dumping occurs. Schedule regular clean ups on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Experience shows that two to three months are necessary to plan and organize a neighborhood Clean-Up Day.

Be sure your community has a littering ordinance
Contact your city or town hall and check to see if your community has a littering ordinance. If so, see how and when it applies. If not, urge community officials to adopt an ordinance.

Develop a dumping prevention program
Illegal dumping involving truckloads of trash, furniture, mattresses, abandoned vehicles, or tree branches usually occurs in vacant lots or other areas and is a major problem in many communities throughout the United States. It raises significant concerns regarding public health and safety, property values, and quality of life. This problem can be very complicated, but the Environmental Protection Agency has developed a useful and comprehensive guidebook that addresses the problem.

According to the guidebook, an effective illegal dumping prevention program must be customized to address the factors contributing to the problem in a given community. Four important elements must be present for an illegal dumping prevention programs to be successful:
1. They need to be founded on leadership and support by local officials;
2. There must be cooperation among authorities, communities, and industry;
3. An integrated approach must be taken when addressing the problem; and
4. Success must be publicized.
Please read the EPA's Illegal Dumping Prevention Guidebook for more information about how to start a dumping prevention program in your neighborhood.

Report abandoned buildings and vehicles to your local government
If you notice an abandoned building or vehicle in your neighborhood, report it to your city or town hall. In some cases, local officials may not know that a building has been abandoned. Some larger cities and most states have departments which deal specifically with abandoned homes and buildings. For instance, Phoenix's Neighborhood Preservation Division has the authority through a number of local ordinances to prosecute delinquent property owners who do not maintain their properties and fence off and demolish or rehab vacant and deteriorated properties if need be. Smaller cities may not have this type of program but there may be a precedence for dealing with abandoned buildings in the community.

Abandoned vehicles should also be reported to the police or your city or town's neighborhood or transportation department or other municipal staff. Encourage your community to establish a hot-line or web site for reporting abandoned or inoperable vehicles and abandoned buildings. In most cases, by state law or local ordinance, abandoned vehicles can be reported after 48 or 72 hours and can result in fines for the owner and the removal and possible auctioning of the vehicle. Request a follow-up response to make sure that action is being taken by your community.

Request more resources to eliminate abandoned or dilapidated buildings
Sometimes the manpower for identifying and monitoring abandoned buildings is low or in short supply. If abandoned buildings are a widespread problem in your community, you may want to ask your city or town to obtain (or reallocate) building code enforcement resources. Code enforcement officers, who make sure that property-owners are keeping their buildings up to code, are usually few in numbers and monitor large areas of cities and counties. Accordingly, more code enforcement officers in a given area means more attention for smaller areas of communities and counties. Ask your community to establish a hot- line or web site for reporting abandoned buildings. Request a follow-up response to make sure that action is being taken by your community.

Encourage funding resources and redevelopment plans
Abandoned buildings can remain vacant for several years depending on various legal and financial issues, including property ownership issues and the reasons for why the building was abandoned. In most cases, buildings which are abandoned eventually revert to the public domain and become the responsibility of the local government. If your local officials say there is not enough funds to redevelop the building or buildings, point them to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's listing of available funding opportunities. Ask your city or town officials to encourage private developers to redevelop abandoned buildings through the use of financial incentives and tax breaks.

In many cases, abandoned buildings will remain abandoned until the city or town has a plan for the property. Accordingly, encourage your city or town to work on development plans to promote walking and a sense of community in the area. The city or town will listen, especially if you have the support of your neighborhood organization or have the results of a neighborhood survey in hand.


Citizens Committee for New York City, 1996, "Clean Up Your Neighborhood." http://www.nyselfhelpguide.org/tips/tip1011801735-43901.html

Environmental Protection Agency, 1998, "Illegal Dumping Prevention Guidebook." http://www.epa.gov/reg5rcra/wptdiv/illegal_dumping/downloads/il-dmpng.pdf

US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2002, "Funds Available." http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/grants/fundsavail.cfm

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