My mother, gone now for over thirty years, would be amazed and I believe proud that her disorderly and messy youngest progeny is championing the cause of neighborhood beautification. Well, Mom, I finally got it. My place is a reflection of me. And I do feel better when my hair is clean and my socks don’t have holes. And so is our neighborhood a reflection of us. That’s why I agreed to write about “neighborhood beautification” for the Grand Lake Guardian.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not going for pure beauty. My goal is more realistic and a lot more important. I want our community-shared space to represent the neighborhood at our best. I’m pretty sure it will make all of us feel better. I think Mother’s exact words were “you’ll never regret putting your best foot forward.” But really, there is so much that’s great about this community: it’s beautifully diverse; it’s got “The Lake;” it’s walkable to most services; it has a growing number of restaurants and multiple forms of public transit. Let’s see, did I mention the Farmers Market, the Morcom Rose Garden, the Oakland Museum of California, two public libraries? Well I’m sure you get my point.

In 2002 a very small group of neighbors formed the Grand Lake GrimeBusters, to take on small projects. The origins of this group may provide an example of the unintended (and good) consequences of involvement, so permit me to tell the story:

Having noticed the build up of litter on the Grand Avenue entrance to I-580 East, Ken Katz (of Splash Pad fame) organized a Saturday clean-up by coordinating with the City of Oakland and Caltrans, and posting a few signs along Grand and Lake Park Avenues. On our way home from Gold’s Gym one morning, my husband Bob and I saw the signs and decided this was a way we could lend a hand to our new neighborhood and perhaps solve a problem we had found annoying: litter.

The clean-up was well organized by Ken, and well supported by both Danny Wan — District 2 city-council member at the time—and Caltrans. A neighborhood restaurant, I think Dominos on Grand Avenue, provided food and drinks.

The net effect of the effort was a tidy freeway ramp, new social contacts for us, and bridge building between residents, merchants, the City of Oakland and Caltrans, all on behalf of the neighborhood.

By all rights it was a perfect endeavor, except that less than a week later, there was considerable new litter on the once temporarily clean freeway ramp. Bob and I were disturbed, thinking that our freeway ramp, the one that led from our neighborhood had been mistreated and was, in essence, a bad reflection on our neighborhood. So, later that week, we planned to meet with Ken and a few other neighbors to explore just what we might do that would provide a lasting effect on neighborhood beautification. After all, we had clearly begun to feel ownership for the neighborhood, even the freeway ramps leading into and out of it!

From that meeting at the Grand Lake Neighborhood Center, GrimeBusters was formed. We identified our first Earth Day project: the clean-up of the parking lot at 3300 Grand Avenue. In effect, the freeway ramp clean-up began a process of our becoming meaningfully involved in our community. I want to say that again, meaningfully involved in our community. That was a totally unintended consequence. We had simply wanted to pick up litter!

The series of beautification projects stimulated by that beginning has now grown to include hundreds of other neighbors, the involvement of many local merchants, and both Caltrans and the City of Oakland. Working in good faith with neighbors and new friends has been a most satisfying and, again, unintended consequence.

And, the tangible results are there too, in the improved landscaping along the freeway ramps, the parking lot at 3300 Grand Avenue, the traffic triangle across from the Grand Lake Theater, the planter boxes along Lake Park Avenue, the Morcom Rose Garden over the past four Earth Days, and support of others’ endeavors at the Splash Pad and most recently at Lakeview School.

Mother would so approve of our slogan: “Hands-on Innovative Solutions to Neighborhood Blight”. With 120 or so volunteers, the projects we’ve undertaken have accomplished some beautification for sure, but there is so much more to do, and there are other people and groups with similar goals who are working hard and effectively, and meaningfully.

So, this space in the Grand Lake Guardian will give voice to our community conversations about neighborhood beautification. We’ll promote involvement and volunteering to build a more actionable and tangible set of opportunities. We’ll highlight issues, problems, resources and projects that are deserving of more public attention. We may even have a “tips” section, or games and puzzles. We will evolve!

There is an open invitation to contribute ideas, for articles and for projects; e-mail me.

So, for today, I’ll leave you with this one additional piece of motherly advice: “Sweep your steps and your walk. You’ll feel better and your neighbors will too.”

Note: If you’re interested in participating in GrimeBuster projects, please join our Yahoo group so you’ll receive notices of opportunities.