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A Housing Project by Any Other Name


Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?" To Tri-City Management Co., the answer is: a lot.

The company has changed the name of the subsidized housing project it runs in western Anne Arundel County that for more than 20 years has been known as Pioneer City. The new name is Orchards at Severn.

By changing the name, management officials hope to erase the stigma of violence, poverty and drugs that have become associated with the name "Pioneer City."

Orchards at Severn sounds like one of Anne Arundel's new, tony subdivisions. That's, in part, the point. Tri-City hopes that the new name evokes some of the same sense of tranquillity and safety that these new, higher-priced communities promise. A similar argument is being made in neighboring Baltimore County, where some residents are petitioning the government to change the name of beleaguered, crime-ridden Pulaski Highway to Pulaski Boulevard.

Many residents of Orchards at Severn, however, say their community needs more than a name change. The community has been a haven for drug dealers and violent criminals. A few years ago, drug dealers shot at State Police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver during a drug raid there. That same year, a man pleaded guilty to the 1989 murder of a 15-year-old girl in her home.

In addition to crime, there is crushing poverty. Many residents depend on federal housing subsidies and free school lunches. "You can change all the names you want," one resident said. "But if you can't change the people, that's not going to make a difference."

Fortunately, the management company and residents are working for substantive changes as well as cosmetic ones. In the past two years, residents of Pioneer City and the nearby communities of Arwell Court and Warfield Homes have set up tenant organizations and youth basketball leagues, sponsored field trips for children and converted a former crack house into a community police station. The police have increased patrols. Orchards at Severn residents say their efforts are paying off and crime appears to be down.

What's in a name? Shakespeare answered with poetic words about the smell of roses. Residents of Orchards at Severn know that unless real change continues, the bottom-line answer is: not much.

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