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Grime Fight

New organization wants to make Memphis fresh and clean

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Since moving into Uptown three years ago, John Carroll estimates he's participated in about 15 neighborhood clean-up days.

"At one of the first ones, we were in an alley and there was trash up to our knees," he says. "I think we filled two dumpsters. We threw away 17 tires, maybe 11 or 12 toilets."

Saturday morning, with clouds overhead and his two small children underfoot, Carroll and some of his neighbors teamed up with volunteers from Regions Bank to do yet another clean-up.

"Each one gets a little easier," Carroll says. "Our goal is to make the baseline clean instead of the baseline being dirty. That makes it easier to get other groups out here and excited about cleaning up."

And so about 50 employees from Regions Bank and their families — all of them dressed in lime-green shirts — were given rakes, trash bags, shovels, hedge clippers, and maps of the neighborhood. Divided into groups of five, the volunteers were sent out into the streets, their main goal to pick up trash.

But Uptown isn't the only area of town in need of a good spring, or fall, cleaning. Which is why Janet Boscarino and her neighbor started Clean Memphis, a group that hopes to make Memphis the cleanest city in the country. The Uptown event was part of Clean Memphis' first citywide Clean Day.

"I was teasing my neighbor, trying to guilt him into recycling," Boscarino says. "We began talking about the litter problem. I had just read an article about how we had been voted one of the dirtiest cities and how we used to be one of the cleanest."

Boscarino, a Cordova resident, calls Memphis' trouble with retaining its population one of "crime and grime." Recent census estimates show that Shelby County is losing residents to surrounding areas faster than the birthrate can replace them.

"Statistics show that crime and grime are connected. The dirtier a city is, the more unsafe a city is," Boscarino says. "The city can only do so much [to clean up] when citizens are contributing to the litter problem."

But with help from citizens — both corporate and otherwise — Boscarino thinks the city can regain its spick-and-span status.

In addition to the team in Uptown, groups of citizens tackled the areas near the Children's Museum, the downtown cobblestones near Jefferson Davis Park, Shelby Farms, and Trinity Road near Ballet Memphis in Cordova.

Clean Memphis checked out tools from Memphis City Beautiful for the event and has followed that organization's lead in dividing the city into 18 different zones.

"We started with places they've given us," Boscarino says. "There are plenty of places to work."

Clean Memphis has applied for nonprofit status, and Boscarino, with 20 years under her belt as a business development manager, has taken on the role of director.

"I think it's an issue that crosses racial and economic lines," she says. "At a very basic level, litter is an issue for everybody."

Clean Memphis plans to do a clean-up day in Frayser in November and already has teams from Nike, Pepsi, and Regions committed to coming out.

They also have plans for an event in Whitehaven in October.

"I think of it as a movement that will take us in a different direction for the city," Boscarino says, referencing Clean Memphis, improvements to Shelby Farms, and the potential greenline from Cordova to Midtown. "All of it ties into the green movement. It's all connected to make us a greener, cleaner, and healthier city."

And if that means giving Memphis' tarnished image a little spit shine, then that's fine, too.

"Having a clean city promotes civic pride," Boscarino says. "I think that's one thing we need to regain. We need to be proud to say we live in Memphis."

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