25 September 2008

The Decline And Fall - Part II...
"We're surrounded...that simplifies our problem" is a quote by the late General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller (USMC), and I find it apropos to include his observation regarding "the enemy", because whether we choose to acknowledge it...they ARE all around.
In the second part of this look into the reasons a neighborhood deteriorates, we'll tend to focus on the ENVIRONMENT.
In the first part, as you recall, we looked briefly at the PEOPLE.
And it's been said that people are a product OF their environment.
Often enough, that is true.
The environment that a person is brought up in can define a person on many levels. Some will shun their surroundings, opting for a better (or in a few cases, worse) environment. Many will devolve into that environment, melting into this hodgepodge of human depravity. Too few will rise above it, and become leaders in their communities.
But what is it about this environment that impacts every one of us so strongly, anyway?
I mean, it's just a typical street, with typical houses, in a typical city. What could possible affect people in such a way as to force these neighborhoods to change...and in such a brief time in such a drastic manner?
The short answer is that it's a collaboration BETWEEN the people AND their environment that makes a good neighborhood OR a bad one. One hand always washes the other, and it's other outside influences that slow or hasten that development towards the good or the bad.
But let's look at the social environmental issue alone.
When a neighborhood begins to change it's face, it's one domino in a rather long line that falls. It might start with but ONE house that has had a fire or storm damage. That will send a strong message to everyone else in that area. Perhaps the situation could have been avoided, perhaps not. In any case, all the other aspects to a quality neighborhood begin to falter.
If people do not band together to assist when something like this occurs, that impacts the living conditions for everyone else. George Bernard Shaw once said that: "A life spent making mistakes is more honorable and more useful than a life spent doing nothing" , and it still rings true. We learn from our mistakes, and that learning helps our social environment.
Now, any homeowner will tell you that doing NOTHING to maintain a house doesn't go over all that well. Nothing is self-maintaining in this world, save nature itself, so we all have to invest some "sweat equity" into our houses, lest they fall into disrepair.
The trouble is, many simply do not. And a once nice building has no alternative but to attempt to return to the ground it was born from.
Then there are the problems that occur when crime is allowed, even tolerated in a neighborhood. It can start with something a small as a mailbox being vandalized, or tires being slashed for no other reason that "for kicks".
People WILL get angry over that, especially when it happens to THEM.
Those that can will form neighborhood watch programs, or work in concert with the authorities to nip this in the bud. In neighborhoods suffering a "changing of the guard", this will go relatively unreported, with the only result being some form of retaliatory measure enacted by the victim against some they think might have done it.
We call that anarchy.
And it's this "street justice", usually backed up by some form of "liquid or drug-assisted courage" that takes over a neighborhood. And few if any people care at that point how things are resolved.
We can add to this that fact that the police become the "outsiders", utilized by a neighborhood such as this for petty squabbles, runaway kids, and car thefts. Because, as we all know, if the police try to come into an area like this with a resolve to STOP the chaos, they're usually met with resistance and animosity by much of the populace. Many people become indoctrinated from youth to not respect the shield or the position, while others become frustrated at the police for not doing enough (if anything).
Walking your street becomes an exercise in either false bravado or blatant carelessness, as there might be someone lurking behind the next shrub, ready to relieve you of YOUR "hip national bank". Riding your bike might net you a long walk home, thanks to a drive up bike thief with a gun. Just sitting outside would become a straining experience as people cast angry glares at you or decide to exercise their right to "free speech" by delighting you with some epithets.
And if you think you're safe in your house...think again. On 22 September, around 1745 hrs., on the 4000 block of Reed St. (not all that far away from our house) there was a shootout in broad daylight between some men and others in a tan car, resulting in some bullet holes in the house (some passing completely THROUGH it), and one man going to the hospital. The day before, on the 4600 block of Southpark Drive, a man was shot as he slept in his house as a bullet came through the house. Last year on Webster Street, a "stray" bullet went THROUGH a house, nearly hitting a child. And back around 12 October 2006, five houses were shot at on the 4000 block of Monroe St (close by as well). It's like living near the damn OK CORRAL, for Cripes sake!
I know OUR house was pocked with BBs, hit with paint balls, egged once, and had a piece of cinder block literally explode through one of our windows. And we're just TRYING to "live" here. Driving along the streets might get your carjacked...same goes for shopping at nearby stores (in the parking lots). You might even become witness to an assault, robbery, or worse.
And I can truthfully say that there is not ONE SINGLE HOUSE in our immediate area that HAS NOT been a victim of some crime, be it a domestic issue, or theft, or burglary, or vandalism. In the past year, we've had three houses hit by scrappers, and a few years back, we had a functioning chop shop set up in one person's garage one street over, automobile carcasses being dumped in the alley.
Then there's the "small $hit" like speeders and boomcars, that seemingly never ends, and is also never addressed to any degree.
Now, with ALL this going on, and perhaps a lot more, it's no wonder we have at least one generation that is being brought up in a very dysfunctional environment. And every neighborhood that faces such obstacles as the ones mentioned is very much at risk for producing the next round of criminals, thereby perpetuating the "species".
This is a self-sustaining issue.
You can bother no one, keep to yourself, and that will NOT "get you off the hook" as it were. It may, in fact, make you a better target for that reason alone. You begin to watch EVERYONE out of suspicion, instead of any form of friendship.
You develop a heightened sense of awareness.
You have to, unless you like being a victim.
Can you honestly feel good about bringing up a child under conditions such as this? And I didn't EVEN mention drug-related activities (that's another facet of this problem). I wanted to concentrate on things pertaining more to actual living conditions. To be honest, it;s not "living" as we've come to know it. it's more like EXISTING. Living one's life entails a certain amount of contentment or pleasure derived from the venue. We cannot, in good conscience, claim that here.
Not at this time, anyway.
In the next part of this series, we'll take a look at the CITY, and it's departmental involvement (or not) in the conditions that imbue a neighborhood with a reason to decline.
Oh, it keeps getting better...trust me on this one.

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