Two months ago, when Painter Victor Atkins and his wife, Diana, moved into their rowhome rental on Hazzard Street in Kensington, they knew the neighborhood had problems: A vacant lot on the corner. Prostitution on one end of the street. Drug activity on the other end. But what struck Atkins almost immediately was the amount of trash on his new block. “It just…bothered me,” says Atkins, who has worked as a fine artist and painter for more than 40 years.
The Streets Department picks up curbside trash every Thursday in their neighborhood. Throughout the week, the litter increases. Atkins bought a trash picker and claws, and set out with Diana on a Saturday morning to clean up their side of the street. They went back the next week; and the next.
“I just felt that I had two choices: I could leave it there or pick it up,” Atkins says. “Spiritually when you have a clean street, it just makes a different atmosphere. When people take ownership of their street, others notice. When people violate the street by dumping trash, you ask them lovingly to stop.”
The Atkins’s have hoped that their neighbors would notice and join in. It hasn’t happened yet. But a few weeks after they started, a neighbor across the street stopped Atkins and said he’d seen them cleaning up. “He said they’d do a better job on their side,” Atkins says. “He said they’d tried in the past but it just keeps coming back.”
Meanwhile, neighbors have started to shovel the snow from his front walk for him—perhaps a sign that people are starting to appreciate his weekly cleanup.
“We do it because we live here,” Atkins says. “I’m just doing what everyone should do.”