Two different worlds


TWO DIFFERENT worlds. They live in two different worlds, separated by the "railroad tracks." In this case the tracks are Northern Parkway.

To the south is Lower Park Heights, perceived by many as homogeneous because of its predominantly African-American population.

Lower Park Heights is a portrait of poverty and its effects: drug abuse and an army of drug dealers who openly sell their cancerous products with impunity. Related to the drugs are robberies, burglaries and homicides. This area has among the city's highest percentage of single females who head households. It has more families relying on welfare, the Women's, Infants and Children's (WIC) program, food stamps, transit tickets, school lunches and subsidized housing and furniture allowances.

Here is the city's highest percentage of school truancy and the effects of low educational achievement, a high rate of school dropouts and a high rate of teen-age pregnancy. Debris is strewn about the streets and major thoroughfares. Alleys and passageways are used as outdoor toilets.

This is Lower Park Heights with its many boarded-up houses serving as "shooting galleries" for drugs, with its abandoned vehicles and automobile parts -- until politicians become concerned, momentarily, and dispatch trucks to clean up the mess.

Lower Park Heights is a world where there is too much of everything: too many people crowded into an area where housing is inadequate, too many telephones being used by too large an army of drug dealers, too many loiterers, too many check-cashing outlets taking too large a cut from the inadequate monthly incomes of too many residents below the poverty level.

At Park Heights Avenue, stepping onto the northern corners of Northern Parkway, one becomes aware, immediately, that it's a different world. The atmosphere seems cleaner . . . freer.

This is the beginning of Upper Park Heights, the corridor that runs to Slade Avenue. One sees instantly the vertebrae of synagogues, educational institutions and the Jewish Community Center, into which problems flow and from which answers to problems of health, education and recreation for all ages seem to flow.

All along the corridor, one sees a few widely spaced trash baskets at transit stops, never filled to overflowing; there are no plastic trash bags or trash cans decorating this main thoroughfare, and no undisciplined, unleashed cats and dogs searching for meals.

Walking through Upper Park Heights, one sees "conventional" families: mother, father and children. One sees people in Upper Park Heights strolling at ease, day or night, sitting in their apartment building courtyards, secure in knowing that their Northwest Community Patrol (NWCP), with city police accompaniment, is on the job.

This is Upper Park Heights, a different world, a different culture, ostensibly, from the one to the south. Yet the inch-thick development plan for the corridor was drawn and will be implemented for those residents who comprise the magnetic field for which Upper Heights is the magnet.

People who are forged by common cultural morals and mores will fight to protect that which is significant and sacred to survival. They will become defensive when the tranquillity of their lives seems threatened by transient visitors who pass through ,, from the other side of the railroad tracks. And that is what is happening in Park Heights.

Isaiah C. Fletcher Sr. is a Baltimore educator. This is the first of two articles. The second will be published tomorrow.

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