Hard work helping Edmondson Heights hold on

Metro Journal

March 13, 2002|By Stephen J. Stahley

I JOINED the Edmondson Heights Civic Association because my excuses for not attending the meetings withered when someone swiped my son's bike, his prized possession, from the back yard.

I jumped feet first into grassroots democracy.

An experience of crime, even of the garden variety, can prompt an intense need for neighborhood solidarity. Before being victimized, I knew some of my neighbors. After being preyed upon, I decided I needed to know a whole lot more.

Our Baltimore County neighborhood is a dense community of red brick rowhouses that hugs the western edge of the city. Baltimore City, however, feels even closer than that. We share a zip code with the city as well as the full flavor of urban life. Tight parking, alleys teeming with kids and the frequent presence of police helicopters overhead are familiar elements of daily life. Edmondson Heights is a suburb in name only.

My gut feeling about the neighborhood was confirmed during my first meeting. Edmondson Heights is "holding on." The main thing the neighborhood is clinging to is a sense of community in the face of daunting challenges. Clinging is work -- hard work.

The meeting was held in the cafeteria of the neighborhood elementary school. Attendance that night was sparse but surprisingly diverse. Black and white, older and younger, longtime residents and recent arrivals.

The main item on the agenda was a presentation by the captain of the Woodlawn Police Precinct. The issue was crime.

My motivation for showing up was evidently far from unique.

The captain, a tall, dignified woman, gave a reasonable presentation, emphasizing the importance of the partnership between the police and the community. She dispensed no simple or facile answers to the predictable questions regarding unruly teen-agers, vehicle theft and cars speeding down residential streets.

The discussion got heated when one gentleman insisted on the equivalent of frontier justice for lawbreakers of every stripe who were at large in the neighborhood. The captain quietly pointed out that the U.S. Constitution remained in force, even in Baltimore County. Her voice remained calm, her demeanor professional.

The man exited with theatrical flourish. Not one head turned in his direction. I suspected that his strident departures were not uncommon.

Next on the agenda was a brief presentation by a staff member from the county's Recreation and Parks Department. He was an earnest young man who spoke of the department's increasing reliance on volunteers. As an employee of another local jurisdiction, I felt deep empathy for my fellow civil servants who speak before citizen groups and field tough questions. Shrinking budgets and rising expectations always make for lively chemistry between speaker and audience.

With the presentations concluded, it was time to get down to the real work. The committees gave their reports and made their pitches for new members. Whether it is Citizens on Patrol or the flea market planners, the committee participants epitomize responsible citizenship. Whether Edmondson Heights is able to "hold on" depends, in large measure, on the number of responsible citizens there are in the community.

The true measure of a neighborhood' s health is the level of ownership its residents assume. At my first meeting of the civic association, I was inspired by the generosity and commitment of my neighbors. I left the gathering more hopeful than I entered it.

Now I have to decide on which committee I will serve so I can sign up at the next meeting. In the meantime, I've taken some smaller but still important steps. I bought a lock for the backyard gate.

Today's writer

Stephen J. Stahley, a free-lance writer who lives in southwest Baltimore County, works for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services in Rockville.

Metro Journal provides a forum for examining issues of concern to the region's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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