Large-item pick-up brings neighbors together

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Sunday, September 21, 2008
— It sounded more like a block party than hard work.

Sixty volunteers in 24 trucks rolled up and down the streets of the Historic Fourth Ward and Look West neighborhoods Saturday. They smiled and waved as they passed each other, laughing and ribbing as crews picked up refrigerators, mattresses and furniture.

They hauled away old grills, broken toys and hundreds of tires.

And yes, a giant, broken bong.

Hey, as long as it gets to the dump.

This was the biggest turnout ever for the annual large-item pick-up in Janesville’s west side neighborhoods. Last year, only eight trucks were involved.

“It was backbreaking when there were just a few of us working,” said Fourth Ward resident and Rock County Board Supervisor Billy Bob Grahn.

This is the first year city crews got involved in the project, said Kelly Lee, a city development specialist who worked at “headquarters,” a parking lot at J&W Transfer near the Five Points. Each truckload of volunteers picked up specific kinds of items and sorted them into Dumpster trucks for crews to haul away.

That saved a lot of volunteer time and driving, Lee said.

So why did the city commit cash to cleaning up these neighborhoods and not others? It’s a common question, Lee said.

Volunteer Pat Venable thinks it’s because the initiative came from the residents themselves who devoted their own elbow grease to the clean-up for three years without expecting the city to take care of it.

“You can’t just throw money at a problem,” Venable said. “When we all look to the city to do it, they don’t know where to start. But when a community comes together and takes initiative, (the city is) more willing to help.”

Lee said another thing that added to this year’s clean-up was the work of Westgate Corridor, a coalition of businesses and residents that advocate for the city’s west side.

It’s not just the things getting hauled away that mark improvement in the neighborhoods, Grahn said. It’s also the things appearing on the sidewalks, like joggers and moms walking kids in strollers, he said.

“Five years ago, this neighborhood was an open drug market,” Grahn said. “It was bad.”

He credits the Janesville Police Department for cracking down on the problem.

“I wouldn’t want to be a drug dealer around here,” Grahn joked, noting how closely police watch the area.

Venable said the real estate industry has noted the change, which is a good thing in today’s economy. As a real estate agent, he sees more and more families looking to buy homes in the $40,000 to $60,000 range—the kind of historic, 100-plus-year-old homes that can be found and fixed up on Janesville’s west side.

Grahn said home ownership will be a focus for the Neighborhood Action Team, which sponsors the annual pick-up, as it looks to keep improving the quality of life for Fourth Ward and Look West residents.

He said starting a neighborhood organization is as easy as setting out a couple lawn chairs and making a pot of coffee.

“Invite two neighbors,” Grahn said. “The next time four will come, then six. And don’t just clean up a park. Get out the hot dog cart. Spend some time together.”

Last updated: 10:08 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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