Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's a neighborly day in this beautyhood

A couple of weeks ago, there was a shooting in our neighborhood. It happened early on a Sunday morning, but I never heard a thing. I woke up, reached for the Sunday paper, and was like, "Oh fuck--another shooting!"

So you might guess that we don't live in the nicest neighborhood, and you'd be guessing correctly. It's a real neighborhood in transition, and there's a lot of tension between the old way of life and the new way. It's not gentrification, either; it's new folks buying shitty old rundown houses, rehabbing them, and living in them by themselves (single family homes) or with their extended families (triple deckers). Mostly the folks who are doing this are immigrants from Africa, Vietnam, or Korea, but there are also some young white folks moving in from Boston and metrowest (like Petunia and me) and some folks from Puerto Rico.

Five to ten years ago, this part of town was a disaster. Picture burned out triple deckers lining the main road and drug-addicted folks squatting in them. Picture gang wars and sex trade and drug trade right out in the open, and you're pretty much picturing what our neighborhood used to look like. Add to that a couple of murdered bodies recovered in our neighborhood in the late 1980s and multiple shootings and stabbings (some fatal, some not), and you've got yourself the picture of a really bad neighborhood.

Nowadays, things are much improved. They've even improved from our first days here in summer 2004 when the crack house next door was open for business, the bar at the end of the street sold drugs, and there were trash bags full of dirty hypodermic needles on the sidewalk across the street. These days, children play together in the streets, neighbors leave each other flowers from their gardens, and houses are being painted and rehabbed everywhere you look. The dirty vacant lot on one corner is being turned into subsidized condos, and on another corner, a women's veterans' shelter is being put up. The drug den of a bar closed this past spring; in its place will be a pizza parlor and a computer repair store (imagine!). Things are looking up for this little neighborhood of ours.

But now, another shooting. And my neighbors are scared, and they ask each other and me, "What should we do? Should we try to move? Is the neighborhood going bad again?" And all I can think is that our little house is so lovely, and that we grow tomatoes here, and that (most of the time, when no one's driving by with kickin' bass) all you can hear in our backyard is the sound of the leaves and pine needles rustling in the wind. And that things really are getting better, and that we all just need to stick it out. We need to harness our pride in our homes and our families to make peace the norm for our neighborhood, just like we've been doing for the past several years. And when terrible things happen like this most recent shooting, we need to come together like we did last night, mourning the loss of peace but vowing to strengthen the neighborhood in the wake of violence.

It's not easy. It's scary sometimes. Sometimes I can't believe that my business thrives here, that we're planning to bring Hester Willa home to a place where Crips graffiti litters the landscape (but not for nothing, I really think the graffiti's just kids messing around). But then I remember that so many of my neighbors really care about this neighborhood and about each other, and how our neighborhood is so diverse, and how small businesses can grow and be supported here, and I think, "This is all I've ever wanted." Alan snowblows our driveway and sidewalks, Kim lets us hold her new baby, and Beth comes over to borrow a cup of sugar now and again. The neighborhood kids know my name, the kids' names, and Clara's name. Moving to this neighborhood allowed us to meet and become friends with Green Thumb, a treasure of a person and a truly wonderful neighbor. Despite its faults, our neighborhood is ideal in many ways.

And also, this neighborhood puts us to work! You can't be complacent in a neighborhood like ours; you have to get outside, pick up the trash on the street, and get to know your letter carrier. You have to call the DPW when there's another shopping cart on the sidewalk or Code Enforcement when you see animals eating trash off someone's front lawn, and you have to stop what you're doing on the weekends to make small talk with the lady next door about her dog's new haircut. When you live in a neighborhood like mine, you can make a real difference with your everyday actions. Our neighborhood takes all of the gifts we can give it, but it returns our efforts tenfold.


Blogger J said...

Wonderful, well written post. If there were neighborhoods like that in my city, we'd buy there. Unfortunately, those kinds of areas came/went 10 years ago, and now, nothign in town is affordable.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Jenny PP said...

Yeah, also, hello, there's shootings in my neighborhood. So I live in a bigger city which means a "nicer" neighborhood isn't really any safer and perhaps less safe. But of course there are craploads of kids all over Beacon Hill.

So I say fight for your neighborhood because at some point it will be tons safer than anyplace in this city, and it will also be quieter and more affordable, so you'll win all around. Plus, you know, there's like yards and stuff. ;)

4:09 PM  
Blogger Canada said...

Besides, I LOVE your house. And your yard. I can't wait to see the new light fixture in the kitchen, and Hester Willa's room. You can't move until I visit!

8:27 PM  

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