Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We CAN be like that

Fellow blogger, Old Mill Hill, over on the Front Stoop posed a question yesterday, after hearing about a very successful community function in Freehold Borough, a place once significantly run-down, but now abuzz with pride and things to do. Old Mill Hill asked, "Now why can't we be like that?"

I want to continue to explore that question, because I think we can be like that. What gives me hope is a magazine I borrowed from a friend the other day. She handed over her copy of Cottage Living magazine, a magazine I have never really read. I figured it might be good for garden ideas, but instead I got stuck on a brief, non-cottage article that made me, like Old Mill Hill, ask the question "Now, why can't we be like that?" Inspiration comes from surprising places.

In the August issue of Cottage Living, there was a story about a blighted neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio that made a total turn-around. The first line struck me hard:
Just over the Cuyahoga River from downtown Cleveland, this historic urban neighborhood fell into nearly irreversible chaos beginning in the 1960s.

Sound familiar? The phrase nearly irreversible chaos urged me on, and I found out the residents of Ohio City, as it's known, led the comeback. They mobilized to:
  • renovate crumbling buildings
  • start their own small businesses
  • fight for a greater police presence
  • invest in the schools
  • maintain affordable housing to not squeeze out low-income folks
Not long ago, historic Ohio City was a crime-ridden, low-value slum. Now, they've got shops and food markets and activities and community networks and garden clubs. Thugs have been with us since the dawn of time, and will always be, but the citizens of Ohio City realized -- even if their city's administration didn't -- that the thugs didn't need to live among them, in great numbers, with impunity. Thanks to their efficient crime-watch networks, including a Yahoo site, where they can post information about crime as soon as it occurs, residents of Ohio City have safer streets than they did in their past.

It's easy to get caught up in the negative stories that abound in Trenton, but to downplay our distinct lack of safe streets isn't helping anyone. Take a look at this map on the local Crime Stoppers website, and you'll see that crimes against people -- in just the last week -- take place in every area of the city. That map tracks only the crimes reported to the police.

For the most part, it's perfectly safe to walk up the street for some tomato pie, or to walk around the corner to grab a paper, but typically, we Trenton residents do not venture out much at night, because we know that if we want to be safe, we shouldn't spend much time on the streets. Especially at night.

It's easy to sit here and complain, I realize that. I know the problems that face Trenton are complicated, and no one's been able to answer them well. But I was inspired by Ohio City's citizen-fueled rebirth, and wanted to learn more about it, so I did some surfing online to find out more.

The story of Ohio City was brief in the magazine, so I surfed online for awhile and found more.
The main theme of everything I read about Ohio City was that the residents of the city banded together to develop fund-raising and a business plan that allowed them to reduce their dependence on traditional government.

We see the potential in this city, and we see its current, existing strengths; but the status quo is unacceptable. Trentonian columnist, LA Parker, who makes his home in Ewing, often accuses Trenton residents about not caring enough about the societal problems in this city, and he's wrong. What he fails to see is that those of us involved in the community, those of us working to find our voices, those of us doing just the smallest, personal thing, like fighting a drug addiction, or planting a fruit tree in our yard, ARE making a better Trenton. But we need to pause for a minute and face reality: our current administration wants us to shut up and pay our taxes and just accept the unacceptable status quo. So, maybe it's time to reconsider the city administration's relevancy. I'm not saying that the whole city's administration is irrelevant, because there are some great individuals working on our behalf in city hall. But, ultimately, so much of our own happiness depends on our own actions, so let's continue talking with each other and forging friendships, and focusing on finding our own way through the problems of this city, without counting on government to save the day. We CAN be like that, but it's up to us.

Related links:
Build a better community

More on the group that revitalized Ohio City

Check out the Ohio City's website

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad you find our neighborhood to be an inspiration. It is a constant battle to improve it, but we love it. Feel free to keep up at my blog http://lifeinohiocity.blogspot.com