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Thoughts After A Week Of Watching, Listening And Learning

Helen Ubiñas

August 09, 2009

If I had to choose a few moments to sum up my week on Garden Street, these would be right up there:

A Hartford police officer stopping his cruiser to chat amicably with a group of neighborhood kids.

A mother walking up to our makeshift office on the steps of Greater Refuge Church of Christ eager to tell her story.

Mattie Laird, the matriarch of four generations living in the same Garden Street house, asking: What can we do? — and really wanting an answer.

I didn't have one for her then. I'm not sure I have one for her now.

But here's what I do know. I've spent time on this street before. But there was something different about Garden Street this time.

It's hard to pin down, but here, home to more homicides than any other street in the North End so far this year, people seemed primed, ready. For something different, for change.

I'm not saying things aren't bad out here. They are. In fact, with the tanking economy, they might even be worse than ever.

There is an all-consuming, suffocating poverty. Neglect — of people, places, pets. Low, or no expectations.

The street is dotted with empty lots. Overgrown grass. Blighted, burned out buildings. Trash and litter.

There's rampant Addiction. Depression. Mental illness. Crime.

And more hustles than you can imagine; some days, everyone seemed to have one.

And yeah, I know history should warn me against getting my hopes up too high. We've messed up, blown or otherwise squandered opportunities just like this one so many times before.

But there seems to be this real desire to find answers that may not be perfect but that are within the grasp of anyone willing to give it a shot.

And no, I don't know why now, or why here.

Maybe it's because the people who live here are worn out.

Maybe because the young police officers patrolling this area aren't.

Maybe all this national talk of change has finally trickled down to neighborhoods that need it the most.

Who cares why — as long as we don't blow it this time and actually follow up with some of the solutions people came up with just this week:

How about a litter walk instead of a prayer walk, one person suggested after hearing about a group from Missouri spending the week in the city praying for peace? Get residents and business owners out there, they suggested, with plastic bags, and gloves, every week.

How about we retire the old 'no snitching' mantra once and for all and empower ourselves by banding together and not being afraid. Safety in numbers, right?

How about we finally, and permanently, embrace the old cliche to "take back the neighborhoods" — not with bullhorns or task forces but with a real investment in ourselves, our neighborhoods and this city?

For years Hartford has been trying to make its neighborhoods safer and more livable by getting rid of crime. For every gain there always seem to be more setbacks.

So maybe it's time to think a little differently.

Maybe we stop thinking cleaning up crime will clean up the neighborhoods.

Maybe instead we start believing that cleaning up the neighborhoods will clean up the crime.

And maybe we start right here, right now, on Garden Street.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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