I returned to Northeast Ohio for a brief visit and was feeling a bit nostalgic; however, I did not stroll through my childhood neighborhood with the same ease of once upon a time ago. I felt a bit apprehensive. With an expressionless face, I kept my head up, looking straight ahead, and making no eye contact, this just did not feel right; it felt so wrong being on guard. What happened? I am missing the past when neighbors use to watch out for each other. It was okay for strangers to wave and even engage in verbal interactions. What has happened to this once—thriving, working class community? It’s difficult to imagine the beauty of manicured lawns, various flower shrubs, and fruit trees, or the streets filled with vibrant life, as children played ball or hide and seek.
The term “urban jungle” adequately describes the unaesthetic appearance of dilapidated homes, storefronts, and gas stations in need of repair. Not to mention, the abandoned buildings with exposed frames (I assume this is from random people ripping off the siding for quick cash), missing window frames and doors, allowing access to anyone wishing to enter, the yards with overgrown grass and shrubs. It’s a bright beautiful day, but these streets appear dim with an overcast of gloominess.
Urban decay is a public health nightmare. Moreover, the number of related health issues that need to be addressed are overwhelming, including, but not limited to: teen pregnancy, substance abuse, inadequate nutrition, food deserts, gun violence, obesity, lead poison, HIV cases, high school drop- out, unemployment, single parent homes, crime, and the list goes on. In this particular urban community, the land area is 3.09 square miles with 5,782 persons per square mile, in contrast to 282 persons per square mile in the state of Ohio (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). According to the most recent US Census Bureau report, the median household income in 2009-2013 for this community was $20,577. Forty two percent of the population lived below the poverty level during this time, with only 33% of the residents owning their home.
Sadly, this is one of many “urban jungles” within the United States that is in need not of destruction, but support. Those who empathize and have the skills should offer assistance to community leaders who are struggling to make a difference.
Potential can, and does, exist anywhere and everywhere. Even in this urban blight, I can see a few community gardens trying to produce edible foods in between abandoned buildings, an adolescent engaging with an elderly man, and a woman picking up trash along the street. These are the stakeholders who would benefit the most from support in such communities. As humanitarians, it would behoove us to engage, inspire, and assist those who desire positive change, for these communities to thrive once again. It would not only benefit the immediate community, but us as a nation, overall.