In other American cities, it's not uncommon to find large groups of people gathering together in public as part of what are known as "Flash Mobs."

In the City of Niagara Falls — where the municipal government is cash-challenged and there's no shortage of overgrown lots in need of attention — people are starting to gather together in large groups in public for a specific purpose. 

Largely through word of mouth on social media, they have been showing up at neglected properties where the grass is sometimes knee high and the weeds are often even higher. 

They arrive, often carrying whatever pieces of lawn equipment they can carry. 

They are part of what Councilman Ken Tompkins describes as "weed wacker mobs" and don't be surprised if one shows up at an overgrown lot near you soon. 

The volunteer "mobs" have swept up and tidied up lots on 91st Street, Center Street, Welch Avenue, 56th Street and on streets in neighborhoods all across the city so far. 

The gatherings grew out of frustration over the city's current condition and financial predicament as well as out of a desire among like-minded residents and community leaders to do something — even it if involves cleaning up a single neglected lot — to make the Falls look and feel a little nicer.  

Anyone who is willing to put in the work is invited to join the "mobs." 

Tompkins said one recent session brought out a 14-year-old teen and a 72-year-old woman. 

Core "mob" members are finding more and more residents are willing to join the cause once the work starts in their neighborhood. 

"I don't know most of them. They just show up," Tompkins said. 

"People love it," he added. "A lot of times, people come out, they offer you water. Sometimes people join us. The response has been fantastic." 

Last week, while working on a story about the shabby condition of the long-shuttered Niagara Community Center in the city's North End, I bumped into Falls council candidate Donta Myles, another active member of the city's "weed wacker mob." 

On Tuesday, he brought a trimmer to the community center property only to find city crews were already on-site addressing the overgrown grass and weeds on the property that were being touched for the first time this year. 

Myles said it's clear to him that residents who love the city have to do more on their own to make it better.

As recent history has shown, relying on the government to do everything just isn't getting the work done. 

"We just got to the point where we were like 'it's still our city,'" said Myles, who is making his first run for a city council seat this year. "We just said 'we'll do it ourselves.'"

Myles said he took his cue from Charles Harris, a community volunteer who helped create Project Green Space, which encourages residents to grow their own food through community garden projects.

The idea, he said, is to encourage people who so often just complain on Facebook to get out and become part of the change they want to see in Niagara Falls.  

"We just got tired of seeing the complaints," Myles said. "If we don't do it, then these areas would still be where they were." 

The experience is turning Tompkins into something of an amateur lawn maintenance foreman and he says he is starting to gather quite the collection of burnt out grass-cutting equipment to show for it. 

In addition to their time and their assistance, Tompkins is pleased to report that city residents and local business owners are also donating equipment. Just this past week, the owners of Security Solutions contributed a new weed eater that Tompkins said will definitely be put to good use. 

In a city where resources are scarce and neglected, overgrown properties are plentiful, there's certainly no shortage of work to be done.

Tompkins said it just feels good to do something where you can actually see some signs of progress. 

"When you cut that last bit of grass, you can look back and say 'we did something.' It's a good feeling," he said.

    

Contact Regional News Director Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.