My part time job is health journalist. I write for publications in Washington, DC (my fabulous hometown). I cover health and community news in neighborhoods in an area of the city known as “east of the river”. These areas have the highest concentration of Black residents. It also has the highest concentration of poverty, homelessness, crime, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, unemployment, teen mothers, re-entry citizens, HIV/AIDS, Section 8 and…ahem… “affordable” housing. You know what I hear from the residents a lot as I go about my business? Complaints about why they can’t have what the other neighborhoods in the city have.
Why can’t we have the retail shops and coffee houses like those other neighborhoods have? Why can’t we have dog parks? Why do they dump the transitional housing in our neighborhood? Why is it that the city doesn’t respond to our concerns the way they do other people? When are they going to give us a grocery store? Why do all the social services have to be over here? Why don’t they spread the Section 8 and affordable housing out all over the city?
Sound familiar Howard County? Of course it does. This is why the fuss over the future of Long Reach has fascinated me. I don’t live there but I shop there at the beauty supply because I just cannot use any ol’ product in my urban ‘bush’. I sigh every time I make that right turn on to Cloudleap. There’s something so incongruent about the neighborhood of Long Reach in comparison to other neighborhoods. The difference is palpable. The Long Reach Village Center is an eye sore. It is polar opposite to almost every other village center in Howard County. And it is a classic exemplification of inequity. I expect much better from a county that considers itself to be progressive.
The Libra in me is truly coming out on this issue though because I can see both sides of the coin here. On one side I can see the residents being very pissed about not having access to the same type of amenities as other villages. Long Reach has a laundromat, beauty supply, a barber shop, a few grease spoon joints to eat, a natural hair salon, and an art center. Wow. How exciting (not). Is this the best you got? I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled to walk to my village center to spend money if I lived there. Some things are good to see like the places to maintain Black hair for men and women. But then they had stores like The Dollar Store which is gone now but was a staple in the center for sometime. Nothing says “Welcome to the Ghetto” better than a Dollar Store sighting. What about a simple grocery store? I thought this was Healthy Howard. Access to fresh foods and vegetables is imperative for a healthy life and yet you cannot purchase a fresh apple within a three mile radius. And YES I know that Food Lion is across Route 175 in Oakland Mills but it seems like that’s not true to Jim Rouse’s vision. Long Reach residents should have their own grocery store within walking distance from their home.
On the other hand if I were a business owner, Long Reach would be one of the last places where I would consider renting. The median income of the residents is $75,000 and $150,000. The median price of home sales is $310,000. Compare that with Clarksville where the median income is between $100,000 and $250,000. The median price of home sales in Clarksville is $550,000. I would follow the money. Long Reach lacks curb appeal and there for doesn’t attract new customers. It’s not fluid. Shucks! There’s a police substation located right in the shopping center and yet the crime rates there are more elevated than other neighborhoods without a substation. So that’s not a deterrent. Also, if the residents there are truly committed to getting fresh foods then grocery delivery services from stores like Safeway and Giant should be off the chain. If not, then…meh…I’ll pass. I dunno.
There’s a lot of buzz about Celebration Church purchasing the grocery store space. Naturally, the members of that church have been lighting up the opinion page of the Columbia Flier with support for this purchase. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. A church is a positive community influence and can provide stability for the this center. But church goers aren’t exactly spending cash that can be recycled into the community. There’s no doubt that Celebration will do lots of outreach in Long Reach if and when they purchase this space. And I would be willing to bet a pack of M&Ms that there will be more recruitment for that church in months to come. But does that attract customers to the neighboring businesses? How much activity will take place in the rest of the shopping center Monday through Saturday? Does a Black church seem inviting or boring to White visitors? That’s a blog for another time but I just wanted to insert my thoughts there in case you think I haven’t noticed Pastor Robbie and his crew (no shade).
Whether it’s Washington, DC or Columbia, Maryland or Compton, California or Brooklyn, New York the message is still the same. There’s something very wrong with putting clusters of “affordable” housing in a place and giving them crappy retail stores while the rest of the world gets better options. It’s like you’re forcing them to be second class citizens. Put yourself in their shoes. Walk around in their neighborhood for an hour and look around. Imagine how you would conduct business with the resources they have. In other words, think deeper Ho Co.
More to come later maybe. Gotta get 20 minutes of sleep.