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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New City, Same Talk

Well, here I am in Camden, NJ. I live in the city, much to the surprise of many who think it is much too unsafe to live here. It is, after all, one of the top crime cities in the country. It is predominantly African-American and Latino. I picked my location because I can walk to work. It also is the only gentrified part of the city. My neighborhood is tiny - maybe 8 blocks total and is flanked by the river, a dead "downtown," the state university, and a large bridge which bisects the city. I went to my first neighborhood association meeting tonight. We spent at least 45 minutes talking about crime - and apparently it is rampant in my neighborhood. There were at least 3 reports of flowers being stolen off of porches and worse, GPS equipment is being stolen out of cars. Burglars are targeting easy cash items like laptops and tv's. Apparently there is a lot of door handle jiggling going on where brazen burglars jiggle the door handle to see if there is easy entry. No one reported an assault, no muggings, no gunshots, no guns drawn. But one of my neighbors did suggest that if confronted that you blow the sob away before he has a chance to attack you. He was quite adamant. He also is quite white, like the rest of the neighbors who came to the meeting. Most are young and have recently bought new townhouses in the area. The group is led by the developer who partnered to build the units. For him, the customer is always right. If you want to kvetch about petty theft for 45 minutes and get all macho about blowing away the bad guys, well go ahead. The main item on the agenda that I came to hear about is the upcoming neighborhood block party. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn't get to talk about it too much. I think that is part of the problem of this group. They have no sense of community and would rather bark about crime and how awful it is and why doesn't somebody DO something....

I thought about my old neighborhood and the frequent gunfire, police helicopters, drug dealing, and other typical urban ills. None of that is in evidence in my neighborhood. What a bunch of whiners. If you want suburban living, go live there. The city is grittier and Camden is very gritty. But the neighborhood we live in is charming. I think this gives people a sense that it should be a suburb in the city environment where you can go for drinks and dinner and never have to step around any difficult situations. Yes, flower stealing is a pain and shouldn't happen. Yes, petty theft and brazen burglars are an urban ill and no one wants to have to struggle with that. But if you live in an urban neighborhood, you need to figure out how to live there - not how to turn the urban place into the suburbs. The police officer who attended our meeting strongly suggested burglar alarms, but also sitting on the porch or taking a walk in the neighborhood. Demonstrate to people that the community is occupied and aware. That was the best advice I heard all night. My flat neighbors do that regularly. They know all the neighbors (and by way of them, I do too) and chat with folks as they come by. That's how to live in an urban neighborhood. Only one problem where I live - the new townhouses don't have porches. Seems the developer cut some corners...pity.

1 comment:

Airick Leonard W said...

amen.

ivanhoe is survived by its sense of community and mutuality. no measure of locks, devices, alarms or shotguns will ever protect so well as neighbors caring for neighbors. all else are illusory half efforts that merely obfuscate our real delinquency: our gross unwillingness to invest in one another.

may your sermonizing in camden find as many converts as your proselytizing in ivanhoe. your fire and brimstone is missed.