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City team, residents rally to clean up Roxbury tour site

With city short on staff, neighbors step up to lend a hand

Vanessa Lee
City team, residents rally to clean up Roxbury tour site
Roxbury residents and a city clean-up team pick up trash along Melnea Cass Boulevard. PHOTO: VANESSA LEE

Collin Knight lifted a heap of trash on a filthy lot in Roxbury and dumped it into a trash bag.

For the past few months, Knight, who launches tours from the Melnea Cass Boulevard lot, has been cleaning up the parcel, which has become a dumping ground for empty wrappers, broken bottles and empty food containers.

The city, citing understaffing, has been slow to clean up the trash, leaving Knight laboring to clear it. 

“I give people a chance to experience the food, history and culture of neighborhoods like Roxbury,” said Knight, the CEO of Live Like A Local Tours Boston, as he cleaned up the lot on a recent Sunday. “And when people come, I don’t want them to see this.”

Knight said he spent the past four to five months trying to request the city to clean up the area. However, his emails and multiple calls to the city’s 311 hotline didn’t lead to change.

Roxbury residents and a city clean-up team helped sweep the streets of the Melnea Cass Boulevard area at a cleanup

Frustrated by the city’s slow action, Knight saw it as a sign of neglect and posted a video on Instagram and LinkedIn showing the significant amount of trash and debris on the lot while also highlighting rampant garbage in the area along Melnea Cass. He also was attempting to push the city into action.

“It’s pretty unacceptable,” he said in the video.

Knight’s video caught the attention of city officials, who finally sent a clean-up team last Sunday. Additionally, more than 10 people showed up to volunteer.

“If you look at the South End, there’s also a lot of garbage there, but it seems to be cleaned up a lot faster,” said Marcos Rodriguez, a Roxbury volunteer. Knight also said Boston Seaport and Back Bay do not have similar trash problems.

Roxbury liaison Asha Janay acknowledged that the city has been slow to clean up the lot due to the office being understaffed and has rallied to Knight’s assistance. She reached out to Knight after seeing his video online.

“It’s not only a one-man job. It’s a community job,” Janay said. She said lack of staffing can be a concern in public work. “So, I’m glad that, even though it was my first few weeks here, I was able to help out.”

Janay and others did not specify the major contributors to the litter, but they said they don’t think a lot has stemmed from the nearby crisis at the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard that has spilled into parts of Roxbury.

Roxbury City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who was not at Sunday’s cleanup, said the effort “should be part of a comprehensive and sustained approach to address the root causes of the challenges faced by this community.” 

She added she was thankful the city is “providing a cleaner, safer environment for both residents and visitors.”

Volunteers at the clean-up said the city should do a better job clearing trash bags and containers throughout Roxbury, including Nubian Square. They said other, more affluent communities do a much better job at waste collection than Roxbury.

Begum Agca Okutgen, a Roxbury resident who participated in the clean-up effort with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter, said she and her family volunteered to remove the trash out of concern for the pollution in their community.

“We care about the environment, and it’s a family thing for us. Being part of the community is important,” said Okutgen.

Halima Ahmed, another resident who was at the clean-up, said she thought the trash in Roxbury “was a problem,” motivating her to volunteer. Ahmed hopes to help at Roxbury community events like this in the future as well. 

Knight said he’s glad for the extra help, adding that he would have a hard time cleaning up the area alone. He said he hoped this community clean-up event will put a spotlight on the critical needs in Roxbury and rally more residents to volunteer to clean up the lot and other areas once a month.

Knight said he hopes to partner with the city to hold bimonthly clean-ups and aims for them to become “more of a routine.”

Knight said he believed trash control was “not a big enough issue for them” because Roxbury is not counted as one of Boston’s “nicer neighborhoods.”

“But it matters to me,” he said. “Roxbury is a part of the city too.”

Melnea Cass Boulevard, roxbury, trash
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