The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 3, 2013

Blight campaign on Facebook taking off

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — He admits his “City of Abandonment” Facebook page originally targeted an abandoned home beside his, but Alex Barron feels he’s started a movement.

His community Facebook page following is approaching 3,000 “likes,” and dozens are volunteering to join cleanup efforts.

“The ideas are unbelieveable,” he said. “I have 35 people ready to help right now.”

The social media community, launched early last week, features Barron’s photos of abandoned homes around Greater Johnstown. Dozens more have been submitted by other Facebook users, and a lively discussion continues in postings and comments.

A majority of the comments support his campaign, but some suggest the publicity only highlights Johnstown’s negative aspects. Others defend enforcement agencies dealing with red tape and a massive workload.

Although he says he hasn’t deleted any posts as the group’s administrator, Barron posts reminders for followers to play nice.

“Please don’t argue with others’ negative comments,” he posted “I would love you to spend your energy and time to post your ideas for the borough and city. Any idea is better than none, and I have tons for the positive people that want to help the community.”

Besides, Barron said, negative comments can spark other ideas.

Barron plans to organize a response team of volunteers to help spruce up neglected property for those who can’t afford routine maintenance. He’d like to start with what he calls “the Bedford Street sweep,” or one-time massive cleaning and painting effort covering homes on Bedford Street through his hometown, Dale Borough.

“The street looks like the South Bronx to me,” he said. “I want it to look like the Bedford Street I remember.”

Steeled by the anticipated success of the Bedford Street Sweep, Barron will then move out onto the Dale side streets, helping those who can’t afford minor repairs. He’s already talking to possible sponsors for the effort and looking into legal issues.

But Barron is not ready to give any free passes to those who can afford property upkeep.

“I’m not going to clean up the slumlords’ property,” he said. “If I just wanted to do that, I’d start next door.”

The community beautification proposal will be shared with Dale Borough Council during Barron’s presentation Aug. 13.

First, he wants some answers about action on the abandoned house beside his rented Arthur Street home:

Why hasn’t the property owner been cited for code violations? Even though the property taxes are up to date, why can’t the borough require demolition? Has the owner been billed for borough employees’ time boarding up the place?

His biggest question about the neighboring property and Dale’s deteriorating properties is: How can I help?

“You say your hands are tied?” he said. “What can I do for you? Yes, to get the house down, but it has gotten so much bigger.”

Barron said he understands that the initial enthusiasm will fade if his response teams can’t start making visible improvements.

He also plans to “keep the social media smoking.”