On Friday, a group of 20 Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership volunteers and city employees spent the day clearing more than 1,000 automobile tires from an abandoned house on Burton Street.
That lot was an apt metaphor for Warren, which is littered with 1,000 deserted, dilapidated houses that create an image for our city that no city wants. A great opportunity to rid these eyesores for good is within our grasp, but it is not at all clear that we will seize it.
Two situations with important implications for Warren's future are coming to a head now. The first is the effort to find local funds in order to get a matching grant from the Ohio Attorney General's $75 million residential demolition fund; the second is the renewed effort by the city to market a $23.8 million bond offering.
These two initiatives are in direct competition for scarce resources. The revenue from the bond issue would be used to refinance some existing bonds at a lower rate, buy some new capital equipment and pay for some street repairs. The biggest piece - $9.5 million - would be used to build a new city government ''one-stop'' building.
Competing for funding is the $2 million we need, which would be matched by the attorney general and leveraged into a $4 million budget for demolitions - enough to tear down all the vacant houses in Warren that are beyond saving.
I don't question the need for the projects funded by the bond issue, but in these challenging times we must be sure that first things come first, and attacking blight should be our first priority.
Blight depresses everyone's property value. According to research done at Michigan State University, it is possible that the blighted houses in Warren are depressing the value of our remaining properties by more than $100 million. This is reason enough to make investing to eliminate them our first priority, but there are other compelling reasons both economic and social.
Abandoned houses are dangerous for the children who play in them, the firefighters who have to battle fires in them (often several times) and the police who have to enter them in pursuit of the drug dealers, gang members, pedophiles and prostitutes who use them as safe havens.
Blight scares away investors of all kinds, from homeowners who don't want to make improvements they can't recoup to people moving into the area who won't invest where property values are falling to business people who seek a growth environment where their businesses are swimming with the tide and not against it.
Blight depresses everyone. In a recent study 90 percent of people in Warren disagreed with the statement ''Warren's physical appearance creates an image of a prosperous and growing community.'' Two-thirds of them ''strongly disagreed.''
We must do something to turn this problem around if Warren is to ever grow again, and the attorney general's demolition fund may be the last, best chance we have to rid ourselves of this blight for a generation or more.
We should not skimp by demolishing only ''the worst-of-the-worst.'' Blight is a cancer; it spreads in all directions destroying neighborhoods in its path. You would not tell your doctor to remove 50 percent of the tumor; you have to get it all.
In the past couple of months I've asked more than a hundred people for their money to help an organization called Gregg's Gardens convert vacant, weeded lots into wildflower and native plant gardens, and a surprisingly high percentage of them have helped.
What has surprised me even more is that nearly everyone spends a few minutes telling me why it is so important that we do something to eradicate the blight from our community. It doesn't matter if the speaker is rich or poor, black or white, west sider or east sider cleaning up the city is nearly everyone's first priority.
I'm not opposed to the bond issue or to a new city building; if done right, a new building might be a catalyst for additional development downtown.
But I am opposed to misplaced priorities. When the roof is on fire, adding a family room should take a back seat to extinguishing the blaze.
Blank is a co-founder of Warren Expressed and one of the driving forces behind Gregg's Gardens. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org