Behind-the-scenes of one woman's mission to clean up Detroit's freeways

Posted at 5:12 AM, Mar 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-17 07:01:16-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Garbage, overgrown trees and grass, and just an overall bad look have been plaguing Detroit freeways for a long time.

However, some change is underway. For the woman leading the effort to clean up, this is personal.

Karen Banks lives near a littered freeway. She said for years, she's noticed trash along the Southfield Freeway.

It was easy to see and feel the frustration from not only Banks, but Carmelle Patwin as well. Both live west of the freeway, and the service drive is filled with overgrown trees and garbage.

“It’s degrading because Detroit is already, has a bad rap for a lot of things as well, so it looks bad," Patwin said.

But just down the street where we spoke to the ladies, work is underway to pick up the trash.

“Even though these trees are small, a lot of this stuff has been here for years," Kimberly Jones, from the Detroit General Service Department, said.

Jones is heading up the effort after years of working for the city and retiring.

“Came out of retirement just to help with this program. Just to help with this program, I love this city," she said.

She took us through the process of cleaning up.

“If you're coming out to cut the grass and all of these trees in the way, of course, you can’t do the best job, you can’t really landscape, so what our crews do is they come out to remove all these small trees, remove any obstacles from them doing a really good job," she said.

Once the dead trees and brush are gone, separate contractors will pick up the trash and mow. Jones said right now, they are still in the planning process, scouting out what needs to be done and where.

“When do you think people are going to start seeing a big difference here?” I asked.

“Probably in the next three months, in about three months, I think everyone will start talking about how clean Detroit is," Jones said.

Those working to help pick up the freeway are from the Skills for Life PRogram. They work three days a week, and the other two are spent getting career training.