For weeks, Freret and Milan residents have been enthusiastically planning for Saturday’s “Fight the Blight” day around Samuel Square. But on Friday morning, the combined forces of nature and neglect made a preemptive strike when a derelict house slated for demolition collapsed on South Saratoga Street.
“It sounded like an explosion,” said Elma Bridges, looking over her balcony to the flattened roof partially buried under 10-foot tall weeds across the street. “Look at that forest they have here, and all that mess is still here.”
The “Fight the Blight” days, scheduled every three months in five locations around the city, usually involve a weed-and-seed type approach, with city officials cleaning up the worst eyesores and trash dumps in a targeted location while volunteers spruce up community spaces like schools and parks. The city’s part in Saturday’s effort, the neighbors had hoped, was removing the dilapidated house — now they just hope to see its wreckage removed.
“It had just been leaning more and more progressively, but it fell down before they could get to it,” said Helene Barnett, a nearby neighbor to the house and a founding member of the Milan Focus Group. “We’re hoping to shame them into coming out to pick it up. … I’d be happy for next week, any day, considering how long we’ve been waiting.”
That change in the demolition plan did not slow the nearly 200 volunteers who showed up to Samuel Square on Saturday morning to clean up the basketball court, install new benches, repaint the swings and playground, landscape the grounds and paint the fence. Freret Neighbors United president Andrew Amacker said the tasks were chosen by neighbors over the last few weeks and will make an immediate impact on the park, as well as prepare it for future improvements.
“The long-term plan is to replace the playground equipment. It’s kind of old,” Amacker said. “But we want (the park) to keep the same feel. We don’t want it too enclosed, because during Mardi Gras this is a popular place to tailgate.”
City crews have been working over the past week as well to fulfill as many of the neighbors’ requests as possible in the blocks around Samuel Square, said Katrina Badger, the city’s neighborhood liaison for the Uptown area. Two or three dozen potholes have been filled, streetlights were repaired, and missing road signs were replaced.
“Ahead of time, we got the neighborhood’s input and they worked with the city to do as much of that as we could,” Badger said.
In addition to the neighbors, the volunteers included those organized by service groups (Hands On New Orleans), businesses (Home Depot) and universities. One woman, Bobbi Jones, flew all the way from her home in Dallas to spend her 40th-birthday weekend picking up litter from the streets around the park. Her daughter, Tayana White, and Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters Jasmine Scott and Jerell Jenkins (all from Dillard University) had volunteered for the work, and when White picked her mom up from the airport Saturday morning, they all headed straight for Samuel Square.
“What better way to spend my birthday than with my daughter?” Jones asked, smiling broadly under her sunglasses. “I’m spending my birthday weekend cleaning up your park.”
Article by Robert Morris; photos by Nicole Harvey. Email Robert at rmorris@NolaMessenger.com, or post your comment below.