The Detroit Gang That Mows the Grass

The population of Detroit, as of the 1950 U.S. Census, was approximately 1.85 million people, accounting for nearly 1.25% of the U.S. population as a whole. Fast forward to the 2010 Census and the numbers are much different — only 700,000 or so people live in Detroit, constituting less than 0.25% of the U.S. population overall. The collapse of Detroit has been well-documented (if you’re interested, the New York Times has an interactive exploration into some of the reasons why) and the result has been empty buildings and blighted neighborhoods. As of November of 2013, for example, the city had more than 300 public parks. Unfortunately, according to HLN, “only about 50 [were] currently being maintained. The rest [were] slowly becoming overgrown and littered with trash; tall grass and weeds swallowing up swing sets, benches and bike paths.”And that’s when a gang entered the area.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a typical gang. They’re armed with blades, not guns, and more to the point, the blades aren’t really weapons. They’re lawnmowers.

The group, known as the “Mower Gang,” was founded by a man named Tom Nardone in 2010, according to the Huffington Post. Nardone was looking for a way to give back to his community, but wanted a volunteer opportunity which met his interests and personality. The idea he came up with accomplished that. He gathered up a bunch of friends (with lawnmowers) and together, they spend a few hours every week or so hanging out, drinking beers, and mowing the grass over public parks which the city was no longer maintaining. And while the “Gang” isn’t an official endeavor of the city’s, Detroit’s powers-that-be not only know about the Mowers, but condone their volunteerism. That may be because the groups efforts are not only effective, but popular.

Over the last few years, the Gang has become a large part of their community. Nardone, per a 2014 interview with the Detroit Metro Times, notes that his small group of friends has turned into nearly two dozen mowers on any given “mowdown,” a group which pulls from more than 5,000 Facebook fans. The Gang does more than mow, too; they’ve held an adolescent daredevil extravaganza, rode in the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day parade (where they gave leaf blower selfies), and ran a Kickstarter to turn a lawn into a lawn maze. They’ve refurbished mowers, raised gas money for mowing projects, and as seen in this video, popped wheelies along the way. They’re having fun while doing good.

The days of the Mower Gang may be numbered, however — for good reasons. Nardone told the Metro TImes that ” city has been doing a really good job of mowing the parks right now,” and may make the Mower Gang irrelevant. But for the time being, if you want to make mowing lawns fun, and you’re near Detroit, you may want to join a gang.

AnchorBonus Fact: Detroit’s city flag, seen here, contains a four-world Latin phrase on the seal: “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus.” It translates to “we hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes,” an appropriate saying given the city’s current status. But it’s not a reference to the city’s present-day struggles. The flag was designed in 1907 and officially adopted in 1948, and the motto dates back a century further back, to 1805. On June 11, 1805, a fire ravaged the city, with devastating results: “with the exception of one stone fort and the brick chimneys of wooden houses, the city was leveled to the ground by that afternoon,” according to the Detroit Historical Society. Thankfully, no one died, and the population decided to rebuild Detroit where it was. As the Wall Street Journal explains, a local priest coined the saying to encourage the rebuilding effort.From the Archives: Grass-o-s: The smell of freshly mown grass? It may be a cry for help. Also, Google’s lawn-mowing goats.

Take the Quiz: Can you pick the genuine lawn mower brands from the phony ones?

Related: An $11,000 lawn mower.