As you travel Atlantic Street this spring, please watch for the green ''Gregg's Gardens'' signs (greggsgardens.org). They will be the first evidence of a transformation in progress. A group of volunteers, supported by the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and the city and county governments, are converting 22 weed-choked, vacant city lots into beautiful wildflower and native plant gardens.
The transformation is being financed by more than 100 generous residents, former residents and people who have never set foot here who just like the idea.
The promise of these gardens is generating interest from developers in a group of 20 vacant houses on Atlantic Street because this sign of revitalization makes investing on Atlantic more promising.
Not only will these gardens be more aesthetically pleasing, they don't need to be mowed, reducing maintenance expenses for the city and county, and they'll provide significant environmental value by taking pressure off storm sewers and our water treatment facilities due to the deep root systems of native plants.
Gregg's Gardens will be an aesthetic, economic and environmental asset for the city. So how do we scale it for maximum effect and what will that look like?
Close your eyes and imagine 500 wildflower gardens in Warren; a garden on nearly every block. Some blocks are mostly blue - others, red or yellow. Groups of gardens define the character of whole neighborhoods. Some gardens feature plants that attract butterflies. Other gardens offer benches and tables that invite picnics, reading or quiet contemplation.
With 500 wildflower gardens, we can call ourselves the ''Wildflower City.'' When the flowers bloom in the spring, people will come from miles around to see them. Thousands visit Burton every year to eat pancakes they could have made at home, covered in syrup available in local shops. Warren's gardens will easily trump that experience.
The gardens will create an appealing environment for potential homeowners and entrepreneurs, and will generate new opportunities for growth in Warren. People will want to live near or visit the gardens.
Soon gift shops, restaurants, a Bed & Breakfast and other businesses will follow. Bicyclists will add to their Greenway Bike Trail experience by including side trips through Warren to see the flowers in their full glory. Tour buses full of sightseeing seniors will become common on Warren streets.
Prospective employers will visit and see a perfect backdrop for their own ideas; and they'll think, ''Warren has the kind of creative and resourceful people I want as employees.'' Warren's image is critical to attracting investors and employers.
But what if we need those lots in the future? No problem. The Trumbull County Land Bank will own the lots under the gardens and can redeploy them at any time for maximum value to the community; when one garden is turned into a new home or business we'll still have plenty of lots available to take its place.
But the gardens will only achieve their maximum effect if the 1,000 houses in Warren that are beyond saving are demolished. We need a clean canvas on which to paint a bright future, because even hundreds of beautiful gardens will be overwhelmed if they're juxtaposed with an equal number of gutted and abandoned houses.
Once the canvas is clean the innate creativity of our people will take over and the new open spaces will be used in productive ways we can only imagine today.
For these reasons, it is imperative that the city administration raises the $2 million needed to receive a matching $2 million grant from the State of Ohio. The combined $4 million will be enough to tear down all 1,000 ''D-'' and ''F-''rated houses blighting the city. Half measures will not be good enough.
Adding 500 wildflower gardens to the newly clean Warren canvas will cost less than many upscale suburban homes. If our leaders do the right thing and bring down the vacant houses, we will raise the money for the gardens. And Warren will be on its way to having a new and positive image to help usher in a new and prosperous era as the Wildflower City.
Blank is the Publisher of WarrenExpressed.org and a Gregg's Gardens volunteer.