The sobering tale of a neighborhood’s decay
April 1, 2011
The Death of a Neighborhood
It crept up on them.
Graffiti began appearing here and there, not everywhere, just on the periphery, and the neighbors said, “Oh, we’ll have to get rid of that. But not today. Let’s wait until there’s enough to bother painting over.” People, either neighbors or folks from “somewhere else,” had left trash on the ground and it began to pile up. Neighbors began saying, “That really looks bad, I wish somebody would clean it up.” But nobody did. Within a few months graffiti covered almost every wall—now there was too much to deal with. Trash blew around and piled up in corners. Junker cars were left on the streets in pieces. Neighbors began to say, “This just isn’t the same neighborhood it used to be. We used to be able to walk the streets anytime of the day or night and feel safe. Not anymore.” But when they looked at the crime statistics, they weren’t any higher; the neighborhood just looked as if they should be.
As things deteriorated and people began to fear for their safety more and more. They let things go even further and completely forgot about keeping public areas cleaned up. After all, “It isn’t safe out there.” They also became less likely to approach teenagers and adults who were messing around, hassling people or being rowdy. In fact, people hardly paid any attention to what went on in the streets anymore. Sensing “fewer eyes on the street” delinquent preteens and teenagers became bolder and even more brazen in harassing and vandalizing. Knowing they could get away with it, these delinquents committed more and more petty crimes and became more and more disorderly. The residents, both homeowners and tenants, sensing that the youths were becoming increasingly troublesome, withdrew even more from public spaces. They never went to the parks or community centers because that’s where punks hung out. In fact, they didn’t want to leave their properties for too long a time: they never knew when someone might break in. At this point, scum from outside the neighborhood saw the obvious. They saw all the graffiti that no one painted over; they saw the trash, the junker cars and no one on the streets except punk kids. It was open season.
Here was a neighborhood where nobody cared. It wasn’t long before the good tenants were all gone. The area got a “reputation.” Decent people wouldn’t even look at apartments in the neighborhood, much less move in. Landlords had to lower rents just to get anybody to rent from them. And they couldn’t be too picky. Now the rents come only sporadically and it’s a hassle collecting them. Landlords can’t afford to keep their properties up because what rent they get is not nearly enough to pay for the work of any but the most basic repairs. Even then, the landlord doesn’t like going into the neighborhood. After all, “It’s not safe. And it was such a nice area just a couple of years ago.”