Garden District project aims to take a severely blighted neighborhood and start to turn it around.

By Ed Runyan


Dennis Blank thinks the tall fields of ryegrass that now occupy 20 vacant lots along Atlantic Street Northeast just north of downtown look a lot better than the weeds that would have grown there on their own and required weekly lawn mowing.

But in a couple of weeks, the ryegrass will die and be hauled away, making way for the lots to have an even more eye-pleasing look next spring of wildflowers and natural grasses.

Blank, a volunteer with the nonprofit gregg’s gardens, says the organization’s Garden District project in the neighborhood wasn’t meant to create the type of gardens that require daily maintenance — rows of perfectly manicured flowers.

Instead, the project in a 22-square-block area bounded by Elm Road, High Street, North Park Avenue and Atlantic Street is more like what Blank would call “carpet-bomb gardening,” meaning efficiently addressing a severe need.

The goal of the Garden District project is to take a severely blighted neighborhood that has been in recent years a “huge liability” and start to turn it around.

The neighborhood has a median family income of less than half the average for the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman Statistical Area, yet it contains major institutions such as the Mocha House restauraunt, post office, YWCA, St. Mary’s, St. Demetrios and United Methodist churches and the Warren City Schools board offices.

Further, more than a third of Warren G. Harding High School students walk through the neighborhood on their way to and from school, he said,

“If you can improve this area, you improve downtown, the Historic Perkins Neighborhood, the high school, so it’s strategic,” Blank said.

Gregg’s gardens are named for the late Gregg Snyder, a lifelong Warren resident who was tragically killed in a 2011 bicycling accident.

The group raised $50,000 in 2012 and this year for the project and hopes to raise another $50,000 this year to continue the project, which improves Warren lots where housing demolition has taken place.

The organization received $10,000 recently from the nonprofit group Trumbull 100, and last week received a $5,000 grant from the PNC (Bank) Foundation.

In all, the neighborhood consists of 372 houses, with 111 of them vacant, 27 awaiting demolition, 38 condemned and 58 vacant lots.

The goal is for the wildflowers and natural grasses that have been planted on 20 lots to provide an even more attractive look next year and encourage other property owners to improve their properties.

Tall ryegrass may not be attractive to some people, but it has served its purpose — to choke out weeds, protect the wildflower seeds in the ground and help the wildflowers and natural grasses thrive in the years to come, Blank said.

One benefit is that the wildflowers and natural grasses don’t require much maintenance. Blank says he’s been told the plantings also help reintroduce birds and other wildlife to the area.

“What you’re trying to recreate is what was here over the millennia,” he said.

“They are inexpensive to create and even less expensive to maintain.”

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