Neighborhood – good or bad? Our choice

Last night driving home I too was confronted by the police cars sitting at the end of our block – 4 houses from our house. I learned there had been youth in two cars shooting at one another. A neighbor wrote on the community association chat list of her concern and discouragement. I understand her concern. I too am concerned. I love this neighborhood and my neighbors. Yet I too hear the gunfire and see the reports of break-ins, drug houses, etc..  Ihave lived in cities most of my life.  I choose to live in a city simply because I have become convinced if the cities go to ruin the whole society goes to ruin. I believe that strong neighborhoods are the only safeguards we have – and they are labor intensive to build and maintain. I am in a different place from my neighbor as our children are adults and live elsewhere. Hers are very young and I hear the fear for the children in her note.

But I also know that violence and evil are not stationary nor do they stay in one place. The truth people do not want to hear is that there is no totally safe place – whether in Pittsford or Fairport, Brockport or Williamson. There is no gated community or remote wilderness retreat that is totally safe from potential violence. If the 60’s and 70’s taught us anything it is that if the city crumbles the violence will simply move elsewhere. Having been a pastor in Greece the suburbs are getting more and more violence and crime no matter what the PR image seems to indicate. And unless it is addressed in the cities it will only increase in the outlying regions. Willy Sutton was asked why he robbed banks? He replied “Because that is where the money is.” Those who perpetrate violence have learned that as well – as a city crumbles into abject poverty the suburbs is where the money is and so crime spreads outwards and so too the violence..

While it is a bit worn at the edges I think of Edmund Burke’s quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It has a cost and the cost is our time and participation in building a neighborhood even as others try to tear it down. Is it discouraging? Yes! Do we feel like giving up? YES. Will giving up get us what we seek – NO.

I wish the answer were easier – that there really was a place or a magic solution. (To hear some tell it the best way to be safe is to own and carry a gun – but I see that as multiplying the problem of thinking we end violence by resorting to violence. ) The only way we can give our children and grandchildren the kind of world we want is to actively help to build it and not give up on it even when we get discouraged.

We need more good people involved in their neighborhood, involved with neighbors and involved with young people – providing activities like the 19th Ward Kuumba Fitness programs or St Stephen’s Freedom Camp, or other alternatives to hopelessness and violence. Giving up is a whole lot  easier but it only allows others license to do more violence and violence can and will find us no matter where we live.

We need more people to come for community conversations to begin to think and act together to find paths and projects that may help us address issues and build the neighborhood. It will be time consuming, it will be work but it is the only way it will happen. And what better legacy can we leave for our children than the example of adults caring enough to try to roll the rock uphill and away from harming them or others?

In that conversation we may find so many others are concerned and at time discouraged as well, but that we will stand with one another to do what we have to do to create a better neighborhood. And by acting locally we create a better region, state country and world.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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