March 17, 2010 - Combatting Blight
The appearance of a community makes a big difference to the overall quality of life for its inhabitants. It does not matter if the city we live in is affluent with expensive homes or if it is one made up of working class people who own or rent middle to low-end houses. What matters is whether people choose to keep their neighborhoods clean and in good order - in other words, free of "blight."
The use of the word "blight" to describe troubled neighborhoods or cities is a fairly new concept. In fact, many people do not know what it means. But ask most any farmer and they will tell you that blight is a disease that affects certain crops. Its literal meaning is "a disease or injury of plants marked by the formation of lesions, withering, and death of parts." When the word "blight" is applied to a neighborhood, it means essentially the same thing: the neighborhood is on its last leg, wilting and unhealthy. Some states have legal definitions of blight to include words like deteriorated, dilapidated, unsafe, unsanitary and "a menace to public health, safety, morals and welfare."
The presence of run-down buildings, tagging/graffiti, abandoned cars, abandoned buildings, trash, broken/boarded windows, tall weeds and unkempt vacant lots serve as clear notice to criminals that neighborhoods with these problems are a great place to commit crime. Blighted neighborhoods leave the impression that people do not care, and are not likely to call the police to report crime or other problems. Blight is like a cancer, and once it starts, neighborhoods can fall, one after the other, until an entire community is blight-ridden. Blight invites drug activity, prostitution, gang infestations, parolees, thefts, fights, robberies and most any other crime and criminals that make for an unsafe neighborhood. The high rate of home foreclosures is also now an element that is adding to the blight problem.
Combating blight requires community-wide effort. It starts with residents taking care of their own yards and homes. Neighbors should be quick to report abandoned vehicles, graffiti, abandoned shopping carts, street lights out, overgrown vacant lots, abandoned/unsafe buildings, trash, discarded appliances and furniture, broken windows and any other conditions that detract from the safety and aesthetics of the neighborhood. Neighbors can work with their city governments to tackle some of these problems. Encouraging participation from local schools, businesses, churches, youth activities clubs, service clubs, and other productive enterprises can go a long way to eliminate blight, while enhancing neighborhood pride and the involvement of residents in local affairs.
The police, code enforcement personnel and community redevelopment staff can also meet with interested residents of neighborhoods that are in trouble. The key to successfully turning things around lies with neighbors who are vigilant and refuse to allow blight to take hold in their neighborhoods.
Because of the poor economy, high rate of foreclosures and continuous [early] release of inmates from state prisons and county jails, the chances for our neighborhoods to deteriorate and become blighted is higher than ever. And blight equals crime; the two are intrinsically linked. We need to work together to preserve our good neighborhoods and restore the ones that are troubled. There is no time to waste.