My little IMO piece was printed in this month’s newsletter for the 7th Ward. They may regret asking me to write something.  This photo is hard to read, so there is a copy/paste reprint down below.

For those who don’t know, the population of Youngstown, Ohio, dropped from 170,002 residents in the heyday of steel mills to less than 65,000 today. That left a lot of vacant houses. It’s great if you are looking to buy a fairly decent house on the cheap… mine was less than $20,000. Unfortunately, too many houses fell into decay, partly because out-of-town investors snatched up homes for pennies on the dollar and didn’t give a flying fig about taking care of the properties. Others just left… walked away. The house next door was abandoned years ago, owner address unknown, until the Land Bank acquired it last fall. After a thorough inspection, they opted to tear it down.

I did the #beingGladysKravitz thing and snapped some photos while peeking out my windows.

They did it right… followed EPA guidelines, removed basement block and everything was hauled off site. The vacant lot was left looking nice and tidy. Even the black-topped driveway was removed.

Hopefully, they got the bamboo out, too.

When the weather breaks, they will be back to plant grass and install a split rail fence across the front of the lot. If the people in the next house down wish to buy it, there will be no competition from me as I think it looks like it should become part of their yard. They don’t have a fence… I do.

On the next block over, the city street department demolished a house and left the lot in a royal mess. People are not happy. Neighbors are talking. They can see the difference between lots done right and demos gone bad. With hundreds of house already demolished and aggressive plans to tear down more, vacant lots dot our neighborhoods. We live here. We care.

Is it too much to ask those who don’t to do it right?

Ridding the city of dilapidated housing is good, but we need to think about the future, too. Vacant lots can enhance the city with green space, become urban gardens, or end up becoming just another form of urban blight. What is in the ground matters. So, that’s what I choose to write about.

Here’s the unedited version of my IMO (edited version in photo):


IMO, filling in the hole left after a demolition by smashing part of the house down into the basement and throwing dirt on top turns our vacant lots into mini unregulated landfills containing the same type of debris that requires annual testing to monitor leakage at state licensed C&DD (construction and demolition debris) landfills.

What is the long term effect?

The debris will rot over time, releasing heavy metals and chemicals that can leach into soil and waters. And it is not just lead from old paint. In fact, lead is not even on the list of 74 parameters that C&DD facilities are required to monitor. They are looking for Arsenic, Copper, Mercury, and a dozen other heavy metals. The list of 46 chemicals includes carcinogens like Benzene (used in paints, glues, resins, etc.) Licensed C&DD landfills have lots of rules, including disposal limits to protect their neighbors. They cannot bury debris within 100 feet of their property line or within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling. And yet, here we are, in an urban setting, with hundreds of mini landfills, containing the same type of debris with the same potential health hazards, located on vacant lots between houses in our own neighborhoods.

The practice must be stopped.

Yes, it costs more per demolition to do it right. But, what is the cost in the long run? Must our children suffer the health consequences? What is the cost to dig it up later, if a clean up is required?

Thankfully, most demolition contractors follow EPA guidelines, which suggest removing the basement, disposing all debris at a state licensed C&DD facility, and prepping the earth so the vacant lot can be beneficial to the city by providing green spaces that can used to help with storm water management.

IMO, the city should follow their example and also do it right.

Thanks for reading,

Nancy Barnes


Thing is, I don’t know for sure if the sub-par demo sites actually have buried debris (which is a banned practice in Ohio) or if neighbors just suspect that the some demos were done wrong. Either way, my little IMO may open a keg of worms requiring answers to the question.

Worse case scenario, I will have to write a retraction statement. If so, can I just quote Gilda Radner after a rant as SNL’s Roseanne Roseannadanna and offer a simple, “Never-mind”?


Welsh Witch

His name escaped her lips between a whisper and a sigh,
Years pass in fragmented silence after friendship dies,
Her life still has no answers and she still wonders why
He slips into her dreams before the mourning dove cries.


I have two unfinished drafts waiting for me to click publish, one political and one personal, and both can wait. My mind has been on an old friend all day, with a soundtrack of Rhiannon playing in my head and I don’t know why. He was wearing a well-fitted black suit with the white artist shirt that he lost years ago, much younger than he is now, tall and slender, when I saw him in a dream a few nights ago. He smiled and nodded, didn’t say a word. I woke up feeling the deep ache that comes with lost friendship. It comes with the knowing that I will never hear his voice again. That I will never see his scrawl on an envelope tossed into my mailbox. In his mother’s words, “That’s Life.”

Then today. I spent the day online researching demolition debris. Yeah, for real. Don’t ask… will explain later as right now, I have too many questions without answers. But, that’s kind of what THIS is… it’s demolition debris from an old friendship that got demolished, smashed to smithereens, and occasionally a fragment washes to the surface. The soil of my life is contaminated with memory and emotions.

I need a Rhiannon, an old Welsh witch with three little birds… come sing me to sleep so I can wake up feeling whole again.

High Tide

So much for writing a fluff piece, all warm and fuzzy about a relationship that erodes my coast on every high frikkin tide.

We had words. Snip, snip, back and forth, and a little thought that floats up now and then slipped right out of my mouth. They must have caught a wave on the high tide.

“I’m done.”

Yes, I finally said it out loud. I didn’t plan it, didn’t think about it, just opened my mouth and the words came out, surprisingly without a tinge of animosity. It was like hearing myself reading the words out loud, as if reading a brief statement in a calm voice. I am done.

He said, “I’m done, too.”

I said, “Good.”

It put an end to the snip-snip back and forth before our words escalated into a full blown argument. There was nothing to argue about anyway. He wasn’t happy because I had cancelled cable television service while he was gone for a couple days. Oh well… my bill, my budget, not like he pays for anything.

“Grandma, did you break up with him?” Little Miss Z was in the back seat, ignoring her mother’s warning to stay out of grown folk’s conversations. “He’s lazy, grandma. I think you should break up with him.”

Should I take advice from a nine-year-old?

She thinks he’s lazy as he is usually in the bedroom with the door shut if he happens to be here when the kids comes over. That’s what he does on most winter days when he is here even if it is just us… he lays around watching TV between naps and playing on his phone, wanders out now and then.

Oh, sweet child… not yet.