We’re taking it to our East Mt. Airy streets

    I learned last week that there is a suspected drug house in our neighborhood.

    Coupled with the neighbors’ suspicions that there is a group of dealers who park on nearby corners, making exchanges just quickly enough to avoid the police, the news of the drug house was no surprise. It’s one of a million nuisance problems we’re monitoring as we fight to maintain the neighborhood we love.

    I still remember the first time we really looked at our quaint little block. We’d been married about two years, our daughter Eve was a toddler and after starting out in an apartment and then living with relatives, we were desperate for a place of our own.

    It was the height of the housing bubble and banks were lending liberally. Homebuyers had money to burn and we’d already been outbid for several properties.

    Finding a home to call our own

    One day, as we were riding through the East Mt. Airy neighborhood we preferred, we passed by a small, quiet block with a mix of rowhouses and single homes. I turned to my wife and asked, “Why can’t any of those houses be up for sale?”

    A few weeks later, one of the houses came on the market and, eventually, we moved in with high hopes.

    Looking back now, I suspect it was the same kind of hope that my grandparents experienced when they moved to North Philadelphia. That was back when neighbors scrubbed the marble steps with Comet, because cleanliness was next to godliness.

    It was the same kind of hope that my parents had when they moved to West Oak Lane in the sixties, when two-parent households were the norm and kids could walk to school without fear.

    It’s funny what can happen to hope when others don’t share it.

    Societal shifts

    In North Philly, where my grandparents and their neighbors swept their sidewalks, painted their curbs and scrubbed their steps, hope toiled between bankers’ red lines.

    As the community became browner, investment decreased until, finally, there was little hope left. Children grew up and moved to greener pastures; they didn’t want an inheritance that was crumbling.

    In West Oak Lane and neighborhoods like it, families fell apart, and communities did, too, until everyone felt like they were on their own. I suspect that’s what allows crime to grow.

    Everyone is so accustomed to struggling in silence and minding their business, people convince themselves that everything’s all right so long as the problems don’t land on their doorsteps.

    I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life. If you ignore your neighbor’s problems, they always land on your doorstep.

    Ignoring problems not an option

    Silence feeds drug activity, allowing it to grow and flourish. Minding your business transforms your block into a haven for criminals. That’s why I knew that my wife was right when she suggested banding together with the neighbors on the blocks surrounding our own.

    The idea sounded so simple, but in the city, it’s an idea that’s rare. But, if there’s ever a time when this will work, it will have to be now.

    We’ve all seen the shootings creep closer to our homes.

    We’ve all heard the cries of voices shouting all alone.

    We’ve all seen activities that we know aren’t quite right.

    We all want to fight, but we aren’t sure how.

    Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take my wife up on her idea. I’m going to talk to the people on the blocks surrounding our own. I’m going to learn their stories and, with their permission, I’ll share them.

    Perhaps if we begin to talk, we’ll all remember the hope we had for this quiet community. Perhaps we’ll even recapture that hope and use it to make our streets safer.

    I don’t know what will come out of this experiment, but I know where it will begin. It will begin with breaking the silence on our streets, and replacing the quiet with hope.

    Solomon Jones will be launching his latest book, The Dead Man’s Wife, on Oct. 16. For information on the author and audio podcasts of his books go to http://solomonjones.com

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