An undeclared war is being waged in neighborhoods throughout Baltimore City. It is not a war on narcotics -- although drugs are often involved. Neither is it really about crime. And while race may become an element, it is not a main cause of the struggle over such issues as trash, noise, unruly children and acceptable neighborhood behavior.
In Waverly, clashes among neighbors over these matters have become so serious in recent months that "the atmosphere of fear, mistrust and animosity is already causing this once tranquil, well-maintained neighborhood to decline," Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran wrote in a letter to Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.
As reporter Melody Simmons outlined in a recent article, mediation efforts so far have failed. This has discouraged many established families who feel powerless in halting their neighborhood's decline. "Quite frankly, I don't have the time or energy to use underfunded, ineffective city services in an attempt to stop the decay of my street," one homeowner wrote Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "As soon as my resources allow, I'll join the thousands of other taxpayers who flee the city annually."
The 644 Parkwyrth Avenue case is admittedly an extreme one. The building is owned by William Connolly Jr., one of the worst slumlords in the city. It has had code violations galore. At least 24 people are crowded into its five one-bedroom apartments.
However, similar situations can be found throughout Baltimore City in buildings which were either legally or illegally subdivided into human rabbit warrens. And in most cases, city officials seem to be powerless to rein in bad tenants or irresponsible landlords who let their properties become a common nuisance.
The Waverly confrontation illustrates one of the most serious and complicated problems facing Baltimore City today -- how to deal with the clashing cultures of those who lead lives based on the requirements of work schedules and those who do not. People with working lives follow totally different routines from those who do not.
Working people get fed up with shouting in front of their homes, loud music and cars tooting horns at 3 a.m. Once nerves are wracked, irritation extends to perhaps otherwise understandable childish behavior. As tensions escalate, those who can do so will leave. Among the first to go are quality tenants who, unlike homeowners, can get out easily. As they depart, ill-behaved tenants gain power.
There are no simple answers. But surely a resolution starts with the city throwing the book at those who cause the problems. Baltimore's viable neighborhoods simply cannot be allowed to go to the dogs because of a few anti-social misfits.