Looking out for your neighbor isn’t just about pushing aside a dusty curtain and peering across the street to see if everything is okay. For Richmond’s North and East neighborhood patrol, community safety means going outside their neighbor’s homes, hitting the pavement and talking to people.
Last Saturday, 13 North and East neighborhood patrol volunteers did just that by cleaning the front and back yard of a disabled homeowner. For months, the property had been overrun with thorny blackberry vines, tall grass, weeds and a fig tree whose canopy nearly hit the ground.
“We didn’t know there was even a pond here,” said volunteer Mike Hill, pointing to a corner of the back yard. “We had briars at least six feet tall. You couldn’t see the top of the shed—couldn’t get to the shed.”
Hill, a 17-year North and East resident, said when he first saw the back yard he knew the group wouldn’t be able to complete the project alone. So he called a lawn maintenance crew to help with the back yard. Hill said the crew charged $400, but that donations were collected during a National Night Out block party to help defray the expenses.
Blight is an issue for most communities. To counter it, municipalities have a list of regulations that help keep things in order. Richmond Police Department code enforcement officer Nicole Ewing said the department fines people for parking cars on front lawns, overgrowth, and vacant properties with broken windows that aren’t secure. Residents are given five or 10 days to correct citations. If the blight is not cleaned up, fines start at $250 per citation, but can reach as high as $1,000 if the violation isn’t abated, Ewing said.
But for some residents, making repairs, especially this quickly, is financially or physically difficult.
“I got a call from a lady who was crying because she could not afford take care of her lawn,” said Ewing. “I told her if I got her some help it would be something she wouldn’t have to pay for.”
That’s when North and East neighborhood patrol stepped in. What would have taken the homeowner weeks to correct, the group got done in a couple visits.
Patrol volunteer Emmet Zediker moved to North and East from Point Richmond two years ago. He said he spent Saturday pulling and scraping weeds off the sidewalk. When he finished detailing the ground, he next tackled a large tree, pruning it to give it form.
“It was nice to do something for somebody else without getting anything in return,” said Zediker. “It’s good karma and [the yard] looks a heck of a lot better. I had a great time visiting with neighbors and connecting with the nice lady that we didn’t know.”
Vincenzo Azzolino, 73, lives near the home with the overrun yard and said everyone was looking at the house wondering when the yard would take shape. “I really appreciate what they’re doing for the lady because she needs help,” he said.
Patrol volunteer Ellen Seskin said the idea behind the group is to improve the lives of those who live in the neighborhood. Every Thursday at 7:15 p.m. the group gets together near Burg Park on the corner of 30th Street and Clinton Avenue and goes on patrol. If they see anything strange or unsightly they report the violation to Code Enforcement.
Another idea the neighborhood council is cultivating is tree planting. Seskin said the tree committee wants to plant 300 trees throughout the neighborhood by mid-October. To do that, they go door-to-door letting people know the city has a tree-planting program. The only requirements are that the resident must remove a square section of their sidewalk and water the tree once it is planted by the city.
“There are different trees for different situations: under wires, wet ground, evergreen,” said Seskin. “A lot of people don’t want trees because they worry that it will uplift the sidewalk, or mess up their foundation or clog the sewer pipes. All of the recommended trees are not supposed to cause any of these problems, and if they do, they city will foot the bill for any necessary repairs, as long as they have planted the tree.”