Although he retired long ago, Eddie Edwards has found work that keeps him busy for much of the year: staving off blight on his block.
This summer, the 63-year-old Mr. Edwards is chopping down tall weeds in empty lots and cleaning the alleyways behind his home and across the street. He also routinely takes care of the street sweeping, using just a broom and dust pan.
“It is time-consuming,” says Mr. Edwards, who spent his professional life molding glass into windshields and tail lights for Chrysler. “But I don’t have anything else to do.”
Across Detroit, do-it-yourselfers such as Mr. Edwards are rolling up their sleeves and opening up their wallets to provide basic services that the financially strapped city can no longer manage on its own, from boarding up vacant homes to mowing lawns to maintaining parks. In some areas, residents also partner with city agencies or look to philanthropies for help.
“My cellphone is full of people” who do upkeep on their own, says Brad Dick, deputy director of Detroit’s General Services Department. Many think they are going it alone, he says. “They’re always shocked they’re not the only one.”
To serve an area of roughly 140 square miles, the city has 106 grass cutters, but also contracts with three vendors to mow vacant lots twice a year. If not for individual residents stepping in, Mr. Dick says, the city would be in much worse shape.