How to Clean Up & Beautify Your Neighborhood for Free

The decay of a neighborhood isn’t something that happens overnight. It usually starts with a single property owner who either doesn’t take pride in his property or can’t afford to maintain it. As the house and yard become run down, the blight spreads throughout the block as adjacent homeowners leave the area, paving the way for new property owners who are even less inclined to keep their property in nice shape.

Cycles like these happen in many neighborhoods, and eventually most of them bounce back. For those that don’t, neighbors have to jump in and start a neighborhood beautification effort. Here’s some of the creative ways our neighborhood was able to jump start a beautification effort at no cost to the residents.

Clean it up. Most people don’t know that it is illegal to store junk cars on the driveway, let the lawn grow waist high, or allow trash and dog poop to accumulate on the yard. The Code Enforcement department of your city’s Planning & Zoning department enforces these and other ordinances to protect a neighborhood from nuisances that lower property values.

If the garbage is in the public right of way areas, why not organize a neighborhood cleanup day? Your City’s Public Works department can help pull together this event which is free for most neighborhoods.

Free trees. The department of Urban Forestry in your city may provide street trees free of charge to plant in right of way areas. Neighbors fill out an application and from there, the city determines if there is sufficient space in front of your home for a city tree. For information about free city trees in your community, contact your City Forester.

Have a street tree that is overdue for some pruning? Check with the City Forester as well; in most communities, street trees are maintained by the city’s urban forestry division, at no cost to the property owner.

Free landscaping. Parkways can be a real asset to a neighborhood, but can also be one of the hardest areas to maintain. To clean up the neighborhood parkways in our community, we partnered with university horticulture students to develop a street garden program. University & high school students, 4H and Junior Master Gardening clubs always welcome the opportunity for real “hands on” experience and are a valuable resource for developing small, community gardens at no cost.

Free street lights. Our neighborhood used to be pretty dark at night, so dark that it really wasn’t safe to walk to the store. We placed a call to our local Public Works department, and learned that the city would place street lights free of charge in every intersection that lacked one. Neighbors selected intersections that could benefit from street lights, and the poles and lamps were installed free of charge. And who pays the power? The city of course; it’s all part of the service.

Paint a mural. Murals are a terrific way to reclaim a wall that is a frequent target for graffiti and other types of vandalism. If no one in the neighborhood is a muralist, check with a local high school or college art class instead.

Apply for neighborhood improvement grants. Many larger cities have moneys set aside for neighborhood improvement efforts. This can include replacing sidewalks, installing historic street lights and park benches, establishing pocket parks, neighborhood monuments and community art. Neighborhood improvement grants have to be applied for and must describe the specific project, along with a proposed budget. Improvement grants are usually administered through the Mayor’s office.

Start a plant exchange program. Those of us who are active gardeners always have seeds and seedlings to give away. We neighborhood gardeners cultivate these seedlings, and root them in nursery pots to be given away at an annual neighborhood plant exchange. These thinned perennials, fruit & ornamental trees, bulb plants, low water Xeriscape plants and native grasses all find their way into new yards at no cost to others. It’s a terrific way to provide free plants to neighbors who couldn’t otherwise afford to beautify their yard.

Beautifying a neighborhood can take a lot of work, but is not an impossible job. For more information about neighborhood beautification programs and grants in your community, check with your mayor’s office or the Division of Public Works located in the city hall.

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