Am I My Neighbor's Neighbor?

This has been a manic month. In fact, the year has been crazy to this point and it appears that it will continue to be so until at least September. You know what I need? A trip to St. John to unwind. As fate would have it, one lucky member of the Rushing clan has that great fortune! Unfortunately for the C, it is not me. I am, however, delighted to have some guy time with Spence and Stern. The one downside to having the boys to myself is that writing time goes out the window. (it took me 45 minutes of constant interruption to write the preceding few sentences). Fortunately, I have an entry in the can. I wrote this over Christmas break, but decided to sit it on a while so that I could come back and review it with a fresher eye at some point in the future. Having reread it, I think it’s a pretty accurate description of a situation and my sentiment remains essentially the same.

I want stress a point that I mention below – this is not an indictment of any one single person or group, it is (as usual) all about me. With that in mind, please enjoy….

I have to get an episode off my chest. Please note that I am taking no person to task and chastising no one. I am simply describing a situation. Earlier in the year I wrote a post about my neighborhood, Jefferson Heights. I observed, “One of the most remarkable things about the neighborhood is that it has seen a high level of investment and redevelopment but it has not been gentrified.” Yeah...scratch that one...

Our neighborhood has an internet group to update  residents on goings-on down here. Neighbors use the message board to make announcements, offer items for sale, and put the word out regarding crime in and around the area. When we moved, I joined the group, and signed on to get email alerts when there is new activity. I’ve never posted anything to the group, as most of the topics that get discussed aren’t of particular interest to me. I do, however, read it when it shows up in the in-box to keep myself informed about what’s happening ‘round here. The group is fairly benign, but as with anything that involves groups of people, it occasionally gets chippy. As you can imagine, those instances are generally brought about by emotionally charged events such as crime. It’s nice to read about folks bringing meals to families who just had babies, neighbors giving goods and services to one another, and proposals for public art. It’s not so nice to read borderline racist rants and proposals for Orwellian neighborhood security cameras.

Fifty yards from my house is another house that has been there for a long time. The residents of the house had been there long before any of the new round of well-heeled folk landed here. To say the house is modest is an understatement. To say that it is in disrepair is more than accurate. The residents, however, seem to be nice enough. I've had several occasions to chat with them during the construction of our house and since we moved in. At various times I have thought about making an offer for the property and cleaning it up a bit, but never could find the motivation. Besides, the residents seemed to be content, so why not live and let live.

The offender...
A few weeks ago there was a spate of message board postings by residents suggesting that the neighborhood should influence the city to condemn the house. Some folks thought it was abandoned (and were corrected), some offered to board it up themselves, but the consensus seemed to be that repeated calls to 311 to get the city to take action was the thing to do. It was done. The city, to its credit, acted swiftly, and the week before Christmas the house was condemned and the residents put out onto the street. According to our neighbors in the internet group, this outcome was “sweet”.

...is no longer.

I have to say that I have mixed emotions about the episode. On one hand, the removal or renovation of the house will theoretically improve my property value. This also serves as an example of a neighborhood coordinating its efforts to achieve a desired outcome by collective action. That said, my overriding emotions are sadness and disappointment. I am sad that two of our neighbors are now homeless (at Christmas time no less). I am disappointed that a neighborhood that is demonstrably capable of mobilizing and helping chose not to. I am disappointed that rather than reaching out to engage the people who needed help on their house, we sat in our (very new) homes, discussed the problem electronically and made calls to 311. I am disappointed that we took joy in the eviction process.

I am, however, most disappointed in myself. I could have gone to my neighbors on the Google group to make an appeal on behalf of the long-time Jefferson Heights residents. I could have walked 150 paces down Madison Street and offered help. I could have found a way to engage my friends in the building industry to help. I could have taken this opportunity to teach Spencer and Stern about the value of community and helping those in need. Instead, I sat on my narrow, white ass and watched it all go down.

I sit in this very comfortable chair every week and write about neighborhoods, community and the importance of doing the right thing instead of the legal thing. If I do not act on those writings, however, they’re not worth the pixels they’re rendered with.

1 comment:

  1. What a sad, sad day.

    When asked if the neighborhood revitalization work that I (and many others) do results in gentrification, I have always been able to provide a qualified, quantified "No", even when asked by those who don't know what gentrification really means. As of this moment, I now don't know what my response can be.

    I have never read posts circulated by any members of the group and will resist doing so. But, I suspect that there are countless layers to this situation. Nevertheless, my heart is heavy.

    I have many, many professional, college-educated friends and family in the neighborhood and take comfort in knowing that there are indeed folks there who realize that while they may have signed up to be perpetually tied to technology, spend more time with co-workers than with the ones they love and spend money they don't have to impress people they don't know, there are still people for whom plain, simple and honest living beats it all.

    There comes a time when we desire to see, not simply look. A time when we are able to listen, not simply hear. And, the rare occasion when our eyes and hearts are able to see that we are more alike than unalike.

    Until then, I'll wait to hear whose house -- new or old -- is next.