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New city cleanup effort kicks off in Grove Hall

Victor Kakulu
New city cleanup effort kicks off in Grove Hall
City worker Michael Funches works to repair a damaged traffic signal on Washington Street in Grove Hall during the daylong debut of the city’s new “Street Improvement Project” in Roxbury on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009. The neighborhood maintenance effort aims to provide “quick but intensive” fix-ups on local streets. (Photo: Victor Kakulu)

Grove Hall received a facelift last Saturday, as city workers toiled from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to help beautify and revitalize the Roxbury neighborhood.

The Grove Hall detail marked the official kickoff of the city’s “Street Improvement Project,” a neighborhood maintenance project with aims of providing “quick but intensive” cleanup relief to local streets.

The project brings together staff from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and the city’s transportation, parks and public works departments to work in different neighborhoods. Responding to requests submitted by local residents and merchants, the city workers will remove trash and abandoned vehicles, refurbish and replace damaged or defective street signs, traffic lights and light poles, and fill potholes.

“It’s a beautiful thing to clean the neighborhood,” said Tommy Daniels, a project member who was working on repairing traffic signals last Saturday.

Residents and Blue Hill Avenue commuters watched for hours as workers repainted signal poles and street lights, and disposed of trash under the scorching sun.

“This is nice, especially in this heat, to see the city doing this,” said Chinedu Okongwu, 25, a former resident of the area who was watching the work.

“It just needs to be done more regularly for people to really appreciate it and know it’s for them,” added Okongwu, a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who now lives in the Morton Street area between Dorchester and Mattapan.

Okongwu’s comments touched on a concern among some residents as to whether the initiative is just a short-term phenomenon or will be around for the long haul. The mayor’s office has said the initiative will continue for two Saturdays per month through November, weather permitting, and that additional dates and neighborhoods will be added this fall and next spring.

Traffic signalman Michael Funches has been on the job for 26 years. A product of the Columbia Point Housing Projects who has lived on the corner of Crawford and Humboldt streets in Roxbury since 1989, he credits affirmative action with affording him the opportunity to become the city’s first black traffic signalman, and sees initiatives like the Street Improvement Project as an opportunity to give back.

“I know all about the problems that affect this neighborhood,” said Funches. “I myself was incarcerated from the ages of 14 to 18. My mother, Betty Washington, was a longtime advocate of the homeless here. It’s very fulfilling to serve the community like this. It needs to be done more often.”

The Street Improvement Project’s next neighborhood cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29, in Mattapan, with later visits scheduled for West Roxbury, East Boston, the North End, Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and the Morton/Norfolk section of Dorchester.

City officials say they are counting on residents, merchants and neighborhood volunteers to survey the streets and let them know what is in need of repair. Requests for new signs, signals and pavement markings can be directed to the Mayor’s 24-Hour Constituent Service at 617-635-4500.