Pleasant Ridge made the news again this week. For those familiar with Charlestown this is no surprise. Once again the community finds itself in the spotlight of controversy and once again voices call for its destruction with justification that tearing it down will restore some sense of ‘public good’ to the area.
“I know it’s not politically correct to say this, but when you have a low-rent district, it invites people who are not contributing to society,”
– Mayor Bob Hall testified in a hearing that took place in Scott County on Friday, September 1.
What happens to a town when its leadership sends these messages?
Pleasant Ridge has been on the community radar for several years now. Ask anyone walking down the sidewalk in Charlestown about the neighborhood and they probably have an opinion. Residents who do not live in Pleasant Ridge watch the news and see messages from City leaders and base their opinions about the community on what they see and hear. Some might even cite statistics or sources to support their opinions.
Naturally, when they see and hear stories that highlight dangerous or deviant behavior from the community, it becomes easier to agree with leadership and view Pleasant Ridge as a blight on the face of our community.
The two news releases about Pleasant Ridge this week have prompted folks once again to cry out against the…
“drug infested” neighborhood that is
“full of illegals” who
“walk around like zombies.”
Since Charlestown designated Pleasant Ridge as “an area in need of redevelopment,” many arguments have been made in favor of tearing down the entire community and rebuilding to attract a
better different population. Certainly nobody wants to ignore an area where crime rates appear higher than average…
…but are we asking the right questions about Pleasant Ridge?
- Are we asking what social conditions influence people to move into low-rent districts?
- Are we questioning how we rank crimes on a hierarchy that positions blue-collar offenses as somehow worse than white-collar crimes?
- Are we looking at all of the ways that revitalization can occur in areas that need it?
- Are we asking the people of Pleasant Ridge what resources they need to empower them?
Michelle Martinez rented in Pleasant Ridge for 19 years because keeping her rent low enabled her to provide more educational and extracurricular opportunities for her children. Michelle’s third-shift job at NIBCO provided a steady wage that enabled her to shop at local businesses and pay her bills. Had she sacrificed more of that income on higher priced housing, Michelle’s youngest daughter might have had to forego her gymnastics lessons that keep her physically fit and socially engaged with her peers. Because of the extra support she received from her mother’s commitment, Michelle’s oldest daughter graduated from Charlestown High School with honors and has since enlisted in the Army and volunteered for deployment to serve her country. What better way to contribute to society?
Crystal Hébert rented in Pleasant Ridge for thirteen years. During that time she and her husband remained employed and met their financial obligations. They paid taxes, shopped in Charlestown, and were active members of their church. Crystal’s family knows how to help those in need. In addition to volunteering and donating to help support local relief funds, Crystal’s children regularly rushed to help their elderly neighbors unload groceries or maintain their yards. Crystal’s pride in her community is only surpassed by the pride she has for her children including a son who will soon graduate with honors and who has received numerous scholarships to continue his education.
Kristina Neff admires Charlestown for many of the same reasons all of us do. After living here for 19 years and renting in Pleasant Ridge for nine, Kristina says she still loves the town because “it’s quiet and nobody bothers you.” Kristina is happy to have her children attend schools in Charlestown and loves how the community pulls together to support kids and families.
Although these three women provide only a snapshot of the types of people attracted to the “low-rent district” of Pleasant Ridge, they speak in sharp contrast to the images often painted of the community. Dozens of homeowners also love and deeply value their neighborhood.
So when we, as a community, are looking at possible “revitalization” projects, we need to remember the individuals involved. We need to remember that we are not talking about objects, but People. Redevelopment MUST be more than rebuilding!
We owe it to the People of Charlestown to explore all possible alternatives for helping those in need.
Drive through Pleasant Ridge. (I do on a regular basis because a dear friend lives there and I sneak by her house to make sure she’s ok.) But when you drive through, go slowly. Because you WILL see people out on the street…playing basketball…walking their children in strollers…laughing at a neighbor’s joke…working in their yards…
But you must look. You must look past the objects. You must look at the People.
Better yet…try talking to some of them. Do not be deceived…
After all, the first lesson I learned when I moved here is that Charlestown has never been about buildings…it’s about people.