"Why is there so much litter in poor black neighborhoods?" asked my Anglo-Saxon friend visiting from the "pristine" state of Utah.
|"Green the Ghetto" Movement by Majora Carter|
My first reaction was to slap him upside his head. Luckily I practice yoga, so I went with my second reaction and said, "I don't know." I introduced him to the more visually appealing parts of Southeast, but his questions still lingered.
I was prepared to give him a history lesson on "institutional racism, mental slavery and self-hate". Maybe throw in some theories on the American ghetto mimicking the conditions of a slave plantation causing our people to have low sense of self or civic pride. My hope was to intellectually explain away the beer bottles, potato chip bags, and random junk on the streets. But my responses didn't get to the core of my friend's follow-up questions, "Why does it have to look this way and what can we do to change it?"
|Do you really need a sign to remind you to sit on a toilet?|
What makes a neighborhood "nice"?
This inspired me revisit the 5 Critical Features of a "Nice Neighborhood":
1. Aesthetic Appreciation
"Everything in its place and a place for everything" said Benjamin Franklin. I recently noticed a few attractive metal trash cans in downtown Historic Anacostia. On Pennsylvania SE, the bus stops are littered with trash that blocks sewers and doorways. Even in areas of Adams Morgan, what could be a beautiful little nook might be cluttered with trash. Is this the city's responsibility or that of the citizen to keep their block clean and healthy? Trash is an eyesore and creates air pollutants. Clean up requires a joint effort by community leaders, tax-payers and the workers who keep our streets clean!
Say what you want, but we are living in a post-racially homogeneous world. Diversity is everywhere and running from it only means the extinction of your species. That means Caribbean, African, Asian, Latino, Gay, Straight, rich, poor and all the variations in between. Adams Morgan and U Street are great because within a 5 minute walk, you can dance to soul music at Marvin, eat Ethiopian at Dukem and catch a punk rock show at Black Cat. Some of my favorite cities in America (South Beach and Berkeley) thrive based on their diversity in economics, job options and belief systems. By welcoming in new thoughts, we learn to create a community-led hybridization which ultimately garners both economic and energetic support.
3. Youth Activities & Education
Hitler and Noriega were able to start their movements with an idle and disgruntled unemployed youth. In Ward 8, we have over 20% of the population under the age of 35. So we better start engaging the youth or else! Anacostia's resident and librarian Rebecca Renard started a web-based resource for students called Youth202. The service offers young people affordable and accessible activities throughout Washington D.C.
Instead of complaining about teens, she found a way to develop their creative skills and roll it back into the community.
4. Culture of Health & Safety
Prevention is the new Prescription. Investing in health doesn't mean more hospitals but also doctors and preventive health services. During the summer, I volunteered at the Reston Sprint Triathlon and witnessed everyone ages 8 to 80 participate. The event was supported by local businesses offering logistical and organizational support. Reston, VA is designed to be a walk-able, bikeable suburban community. The neighborhood is filled with green spaces, clean public pools, fresh food, and constant activities to promote an active lifestyle.
5. Civic Pride
If you don't believe in your neighborhood, then who will? Like money, nice neighborhoods don't fall out of the sky. They are made with hard work and dedication. I often read negative comments on twitter, or blogs about Anacostia. People who drive down one street for 3 minutes give their opinion on the entire area. Even people who have lived here for years yet refuse to get active but weigh down community energy. Either lead, follow or get out of the way!
Bronx Leader Majora Carter on if she was President and Greening the Ghetto
For more on building a nice neighborhood visit PBS