Not long ago I wrote a blogpost in which I explained how my wife had illuminated for me one of the possible mechanisms for neighborhood gentrification to cause an increase in crime. Obviously such things as an increase in targets of opportunity for the ne’er-do-wells along with an increase in reportage by more upwardly mobile people will play their roles, but she described for me the actual logistics of previously abandoned and under-monitored spaces and places turning into inhabited, monitored spaces pushing individuals into engaging in criminal behavior in new spaces where they hope to find shelter. It is, in effect, wildlife being pushed out of its habitat by development only for behaviors which have not changed to become considered nuisances…or crimes in this case.
This last week I experienced directly another such event. A problematic neighborhood apartment building, The Ambassador, was recently sold and is undergoing an exterior renovation. For decades at least an enormous hedge surrounded the front of the building not only obscuring the fine architectural qualities which made it one of Springfield’s finest addresses during the first half of the last century, but also making a great deal of space around the building a sort of “Wild, Wild West”. So far so good. I did the same when I purchased my home: first I “limbed up” the giant bushes and scrubby trees surrounding my house, then I removed them. It removed the hidden places primed for bad behavior from my property.
On a particularly warm afternoon last week I opened the windows to the downstairs apartment and adjusted the storm door to let air in while locking it and leaving the primary door wide open; to let in the sun and the warmer than usual air. A hour or so later I remembered that I hadn’t yet unlocked the gate to the alleyway and so I needed to do so to toss some trash in the dumpster. Exciting, I know. As I unlocked the storm door I heard an unusual sound of some unidentifiable sort and upon opening the door I found, just at the base of the porch steps, a rather large strangely attired Black man sporting a backpack and a rather unusual look on his face.
With an ever so slightly foreign accent, or a slurring and difficulty with words stemming from chemical dependence and intoxication he stammered:
-Did…you…do this garden? I want to learn…I have troubles and a garden…
-My wife designed it.
-Roses, flowers…I don’t know.
-There are roses over there, feel free to look at them. I have a meeting (which was true, I did), I’ve got to go.
Forgetting about the trash and the gate I went back into the house, locking the doors (plural) behind me. By the time I got upstairs there was no sign of him in the backyard. I went back down and closed and locked the windows. I assume he left the way he likely came in, through the still unrepaired section of fence my neighbor took down in order to do sewer work back in April.
The gap in the fence
The stuttering garden conversation aside, I have no doubt that he was using my space to get away for a while and shoot up. Whether he would have behaved as deferentially had my 5’2″ wife gone down to throw away the trash instead of her 6′ 240 lb husband we’ll never know, but I can tell you that it was startling, and knowing that the lock on the storm door could be broken with only a moderately firm tug and that, even that aside, the screen is just one of those modern fabric ones and not even an old style metallic mesh, my house was wide open to entry by someone who, I would venture to guess, could have used a little money to score his next hit.
Might he not have ventured into that space if The Ambassador were still a jungle, if 77 and 83 Maple Street were still vacant buildings and lot in behind an enormous, weed infested oasis for bad behavior? I don’t think so, and it made for one disconcerting afternoon interaction.