North St. Louis residents fed up with slow response of city on maintenance and cleanup

HYDE PARK – Getting city help when it comes to basic cleanup of things like trash, brush and debris is a roll of the dice according to some on the north side, and they say it’s weighing on their already struggling property values.  Sometimes the response is quick, but all too often it’s a long and messy waiting game.  The latter is leading to frustration among some residents and politicians.

Fatimah Muhammad is one of the lucky ones. When a lot was cleared near her Hyde Park home, she thanked everyone who made phone calls to the city. She also thanked the City Street Division labor supervisor for responding so quickly, advising the division to work on preventative measures in the future.  

For other north city residents like Jade Skye, city services aren’t always so quick. Or satisfactory. Residents often find themselves making several unanswered calls to complain about environmental eyesores.  

“It’s like a jungle,” Skye said of some alleys, sidewalks, streets and LRA-owned vacant lots and homes that the City is responsible for servicing.

Residents, like Skye, say they continually complain of trash, unkempt grass, waist-high weeds, downed trees and [illegal] dumping that sometimes lies in alleys for several days.

Though oversight of city services ultimately falls in the lap of the mayor, some aldermen, like Jesse Todd, placed the bettering of such services high on their priority lists.

“We need our city services just like people south of Delmar [Blvd.]. They don’t ask us to pay our taxes, and we shouldn’t have to ask them to provide us with our services,” Todd told the The NorthSider. Todd’s Covenant-Blu neighborhood home is one block north of the infamous “Delmar divide.”

Skye, too, made the comparison between city services on the north side vs. south city in particular.

“It’s like night and day,” she said, contrasting the quality of grass-cutting by homeowners versus that of the city’s Forestry Division.

“Look at this hack job,” she pointed out Friday after a Forestry crew cut grass near Cottage and Cora in the Ville neighborhood. “They’re bringing our property value down,” alleged Skye.

Brush, tree branches, grass, trash and other debris lay on the sidewalk and in the streets, a sight similar to one at Billups and Aldine Streets on Wednesday that prompted Skye to call The NorthSider.

On Friday, Wednesdays brush, trash and grass still lay on the street and sidewalk.

City Forestry Commissioner Alan Jankowski explained that after Forestry crews down grass and trees, they usually clean it up within a week.

“So we’re supposed to look at this for a week,” Skye responded, likening its unattractiveness to weeks of tall grass and spreading bushes.  “If we let our grass get as tall as they let theirs do, we get fined,” she added.

Forestry cuts City/LRA-owned properties twice a year: once April through June, then July through October.

“Grass grows every day…I shouldn’t have to live in another neighborhood for my surroundings to be beautiful,” said 4th Ward Alderwoman Gwendolyn Evans.

As for the disparity in services between north and south St. Louis, Jankowski said, “We don’t condone that: we treat everybody and every tree the same — no matter where it is.”

And vacant lots? Jankowski alleged that it could be complicated, figuring out which lots the city owns and those that residents own.

Should it be determined, say, a resident-owned tree is downed by a storm and falls onto the street, Forestry will only move it to the out of the way of traffic, according to the Forestry Division.

The departments don’t work overtime, so trees downed overnight wouldn’t be moved out of the way of traffic until the next business day, Jankowski said.  

The cleaning up of alleys, another concern for residents, actually falls upon residents. The Refuse Division is only responsible for picking up trash, recycled items and yard waste in provided containers.

Illegally dumped items in alleyways, dumpsters or vacant lots fall on the Refuse Division. There is a police task force that targets illegal dumping, but the division encourages residents to report the activity.

The NorthSider reached out to the mayor office and the Refuse Division. Neither had responded by press time.

Bill Beene

Author: Bill Beene

Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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