In 1992, Los Angeles was rocked by deadly riots that killed more than 50 people, injured more than 4,000 and led to a billion dollars in property damage. Now, one man's inspirational story of rebuilding yields a lesson that communities everywhere can learn from.
"We had gang members," says L. A. resident, Brent Green. "We had prostitutes that would come down into the neighborhood from the busy streets and do their business. We had drug dealers that would come down here."
A landscaper by trade, Brent started his neighborhood revitalization plan with his own home. When people see what this house looked like when he bought it, their jaws drop.
"The bones are still here," says Brent. "It's all the same bones. You downplay the bad. You up-play the good. And you end up with a look."
After finishing his own house, Brent focused his attention on the street, believing that beautifying an area could change everything. It became a personal mission.
"Neighborhoods that have greenery are more inviting and they beckon people to come out and commune with each other," says Brent. "I was 35 when I bought the house, and on my birthday of that year I planted 35 trees up and down the street. I'm 44 now and I've been doing it every year since I bought the house."
To date, Brent has paid for and planted more than 400 trees in his community.
"And the more that I did, the more neighbors thought it was great," says Brent. "And the more people began to come out and join me in the effort."
And when neighbors asked him to help them landscape their homes, his grassroots movement gained momentum. Brent's trees gave neighbors a common bond. They formed a block club and helped clean up the streets. By creating an organized presence, they substantially reduced crime, because they started to watch out for each other.
"With the greenery that's here in the neighborhood, I think it gives more of a sense of a neighborhood now, and a sense of the fact that people who actually live here care. Because it's green, it's clean, it's well tended," says Brent. "I think planting a tree is probably one of the best things you can do, because I think over time it gives you one of the biggest pay-offs."
Brent and his neighbors' efforts attracted the attention of their city councilman, who helped them get more than a million dollars in neighborhood improvements.
"It just takes some initiative," says Brent. "You'd be surprised how many people want to do it and maybe they just never get around to doing it. But if you start it, you'd be surprised how many people join it. Because they want to be a part of it. Everybody wants to live in a nice environment."
Brent says no matter where you live, think about planting trees. Not only do they add beauty, they also reduce air pollution. And if you plant them around your home, they'll help conserve energy, reduce heating and cooling costs, and can even increase property value.
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