Residents of an area of southwest Baltimore have moved into position to claim a small victory in the war on drugs with the planned conversion of an empty lot into a playground.
The residents staged the Carrollton Ridge Community Festival yesterday, a children's fair that Mike Keeney, the neighborhood association president, said was the first step in recapturing the neighborhood.
Proceeds from the fair will help build a playground in an empty lot that had been used as a dumping ground for garbage and drug paraphernalia.
"We've been under siege by drug dealers and users," Keeney said. "Our children have no place to go. The streets are their playground and the drug busts are their entertainment."
More wholesome entertainment -- game booths and pony rides and lots of music -- began shortly after a noon ribbon-cutting ceremony at McHenry and Monroe streets that was attended by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the Baltimore Oriole mascot and a clown.
The fair was sponsored by the Communities Organized to Improve Life, an umbrella organization of 52 community and business groups, the Carrollton Ridge Improvement Association and the Health and Education Resource Organization, Keeney said.
Music was provided by Moonlight Brothers, who also emceed dance contests.
The playground, equipped with swings and sliding boards and other equipment, is expected to cost $20,000, Keeney said. The lot will be paved with asphalt and will be maintained by the community group. The playground will be locked when not in use and keys will be given to residents who will "baby-sit" the property, he said.
A lifetime resident of Carrollton Ridge, Keeney said that the neighborhood didn't always have cracked sidewalks and streets littered with trash and hypodermic needles.
"It was the most beautiful neighborhood," he said. That drastically changed when residents "stopped caring," he said.
Josephine Battaglia, president of a community association that takes in Frederick and Fulton avenues and Lombard and Monroe streets, said that residents care again and plan to show it by taking back the neighborhood from the drug trade.
One way to accomplish that is to take control of empty lots and provide playgrounds for children. "Then there's another lot and another playground, and another lot and another playground and on and on until there are enough for all the kids," Keeney said.
Rita McHurley, a COIL organizer, said that the changes were being made primarily for the sake of children.
"Our message is that we can't give up on our children," McHurley said. A lifetime resident of Carrollton Ridge and mother of 10, she said she still believes the neighborhood can be a good place to bring up a family.
"We'll do whatever we have to do to clean up this neighborhood," Battaglia said, aiming her remarks at drug dealers. "They think they've taken our neighborhood, but we've got news for them. They can pack their suitcases and get out."
Most children at the fair welcomed the news of a playground in their future and a future without drugs.
"I learned to say no to drugs," Betsy Eblen, 10, said. "They shouldn't do it," she said of drug users, "because if they have kids and their kids find out, it will hurt them."