By Seth Daniel
Over the last few years, the Chelsea Shines event on Earth Day has brought out hundreds of people to help spruce up the City at the start of spring, but participants in the effort, such as Sharon Fosbury and Mike Sandoval, said there had been a growing sense of dissatisfaction with even
While surveys did show it helped build morale and positive views of the neighborhoods, all the work was often for not in just a few hours.
“We did surveys and found that after people participated in Chelsea Shines, they did feel like they had more power to make a difference in their community and they were more receptive to recommending their neighborhood as a place for people to move to,” said Fosbury. “However, another thing we started to notice is that after a week, and sometimes even within the same day, it didn’t seem like we’d even been there to clean. The place had been trashed again and looked the same as when we started. We changed the perceptions, yes, but not the behaviors. We want to do this kind of effort and do it in a way where the work will be sustained all year.”
Sandoval, who works for the City but is volunteering his time to the new effort as a resident, combined efforts with Fosbury – who works for The Neighborhood Developers and is a resident of Chelsea – to create the new Community Enhancement Team (CET). It acts like a division of the Chelsea Shines program, but stays in overdrive long after the annual, larger Earth Day efforts.
Sadoval said it’s something that has been about residents organizing themselves, wanting nothing but the City’s blessing to make things better.
“This is not just about saying things; it’s about being a doer,” he said, sweat coming from his brow as he dumped donated coffee grounds onto newly-planted sunflowers last week. “It’s about getting something done that lasts. We don’t want the DPW to do the clean up. We want to engage in it by ourselves. It’s our community and we want to make it better ourselves. We just need the help and support of the City in small ways.”
The CET has focused on shortening the effort and bringing the community into the fold in that smaller patch of Earth.
First, they have concentrated on the Willows – a guardrail area on Marlborough Street that overlooks the Chelsea Creek and has been known as a dumping ground for decades. Beginning on April 16, they reported to the short stretch and began to do things little by little.
On that first day, curious neighbors in the area who have kept their properties immaculate despite the filth on the streets outside their fences. Families like the England family and others in the area slowly began wondering what they could do to help.
“On the first day we went there, it was just filthy,” said Fosbury. “We found seat cushions, used hypodermic needles, asphalt chunks, cell phones and we even had to call the police because we found a machete that looked pretty serious,” she said.
The group came back on Earth Day, April 23, and neighbors started joining the effort.
They’ve had cleaning sessions, weeding sessions and recently they started planting sunflowers along the ugly chain link fence that breaks up a remarkable northward view. They have also fortified the soil continuously using spent coffee ground donated by Common Ground coffee shop on the Everett Parkway.
“We’re just an informal group that wants to make the City look better,” said Fosbury. “On April 16th, this was a complete dumping ground. Now, it’s sunflowers. One day cleanups are only so successful. But when you go back and back and back, it’s sustainable. Maybe not this year, but maybe next year we might have that entire fence covered with sunflowers. Then we’ve changed the way the place looks.”
Added Sandoval, “And we don’t do it with an effort of hundreds of people. It’s been a few people here and there helping out consistently. People are coming out one day to spread coffee grounds, and then other people will come out another time to do weeding. The reward we get is simply making the community we live in look better. We get to see these flowers instead of trash. Next year we’re going to have sunflowers and lilies coming up. We know it’s our community and we want the rest of the community to buy into it and we can do it ourselves.”
In between work at the Willows, the CET has also spent time doing routine clean ups in Bellingham Square, Broadway and Kayem Park – a much larger effort that they said they will continue also with regularity.
In addition to the smaller, consistent effort by the CET, City Manager Tom Ambrosino has planted the seed for a Chelsea Beautification Committee – a similar group to what he and the community in Revere formed back in 2001 when he first became mayor of that City.
The Committee is comprised at the moment by CET, TND, Chelsea Greenspace, the ECO Youth Team, and other interested parties.
Each month they meet with Ambrosino to go over issues like problem properties, potholes, unsightly City properties, areas to enhance and new initiatives they want to start. At the same time, they keep a list of issues that have been discussed and not resolved. By maintaining that list and providing updates on the status of each item at the meetings, there has evolved an accountability for getting the big and small things done.
At the moment, the Beautification Committee has decided to focus on the initiatives of eliminating cigarette butts from Bellingham Square and dog waste from the entire City.
“One small thing is the cigarette butts, which don’t compost and aren’t biodegradable,” said Fosbury. “We want to keep them off the streets, but at the same time there are cigarette receptacles in Bellingham Square for people to put the butts into. We certainly don’t want them in the trash because they could cause a fire. That’s the kinds of small changes that could lead to a bigger change in the way things look.”
The biggest thing is that the community has brought about the efforts, both Sandoval and Fosbury said.
“This is the community speaking and it’s not coming from the top down,” said Sandoval. “When we had members of the community working to clean up the Willows, and then we got the Mass DOT (Department of Transportation) to pitch in and clean up the other side of the fence, it was just an incredible feeling of community and working together to do something that will last.”
Added Fosbury, “It’s not 100 people, but rather 10 or 12 people making a big difference. By making these consistent efforts, we believe people will see this isn’t a dumping ground and someone is caring for these places. We are setting a model and being consistent with it. That’s how you change behaviors and changing behaviors is the hardest thing to do.”