Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Neighborhood Makeover Residents Want to Spruce Up Community

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Neighborhood Makeover Residents Want to Spruce Up Community

Article excerpt

Elmore Martin Jr. owns a townhouse on Ken Knight Drive with a well-tended front yard and rose bushes along the the walkway that he's painting red. The house next door, however, has been vacant for nine years.

Abandoned Jacksonville houses -- some condemned by the city -- and debris litter the small Northside community of Washington Heights. Now, some residents are trying to organize a community association to make their community more livable. And they want City Hall to help.

"We just want to get it fixed up better," said Martin, who is retired and has lived in his house since 1962. "We don't want them to do everything for us, just some kind of assistance."

Mayor John Delaney's proposed city budget includes a $500,000 anti-litter program, which will include public service announcements and a trash pickup campaign. It remains to be seen, however, what kind of impact the new initiative will have on communities like Washington Heights because the cleanup will focus on major roads and intersections, said Susan Wiles, the mayor's chief of staff.

Nonetheless, various city initiatives to reinvigorate low-income communities, such as the 3-year-old Intensive Care Neighborhoods program, have led to rising expectations among residents of Washington Heights.

Darrell Brock has started to form a neighborhood group because he thinks too many good people have left the area and those who remain don't know how to make their voices heard by local government.

On a recent walk through the neighborhood, the 35-year-old truck driver, who has lived in Washington Heights for most of his life, pointed to vacant homes, uncut grass 5 feet high, trash along the streets, and grocery carts, 50-gallon drums and tires in the Ribault River as signs of neglect in the community.

While Brock wants the city to pay more attention to Washington Heights -- which has about 400 homes -- he thinks a neighborhood organization will give residents a sense of purpose about improving the area and a way to get the city's notice. About 20 percent of area homes are abandoned, residents estimate.

"It is bad, but there's an effort being made out here to correct what's bad," said Brock. …

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