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A thriving neighborhood village has a stake in helping to keep the street safe.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Many an urban neighborhood would be happy to feel the pain that Roanoke’s Grandin Village is experiencing:
On pleasant evenings, it seems, a crowd of young people has been hanging out on the sidewalk and benches in front of Natural Foods Co-op. From preteens to young adults, they’re drawn there, a neighborhood teen told reporter Zach Crizer, because the small business district at the heart of the village is both interesting and safe.
And this is a problem? Well, yes, if the crowd grows large and unruly enough to scare away patrons of the businesses that make the district such a success.
Business and community leaders who appealed to the police for help met last week with Chief Chris Perkins, who said he would have officers patrol the area on bicycles several nights a week. It’s a reasonable response to a threat that, thus far, is more perceived than real.
The group of concerned citizens does not intend to leave it at that, though. Members said they would organize a neighborhood watch, an excellent idea that Perkins encouraged.
Police have found no evidence to justify fears of an illegal drug market in the making. The main complaint has been that some of the young people hanging around are foul-mouthed and intimidating in their rudeness. The harm has been to people’s feelings, not to their safety.
But keeping safe neighborhoods safe does require vigilance by police and residents alike.
Civilians, in fact, might act as a better break on uncivil — as opposed to illegal — behavior.
As the chief observed at last week’s meeting, “None of you in this room wants the police to be able to tell you not to sit on a public bench.” Police can treat young people no differently if they are not violating any law.
Neighborhood people of the adult variety who are not easily intimidated can change the dynamics simply by being around. If their presence doesn’t shame the unrulier folks into polite behavior, as might be hoped, it at least can reassure little children and other hapless passersby that the bullies are not in charge.
Village leaders sound quite reasonable in their expectation that people should feel safe and welcome on the street. The best assurance of that is the stake business owners and patrons have in keeping it so.
Already, resident Heidi Schmidt said last week, the crowd had thinned. “It’s dried up and gone away. They know we’re watching.”
That’s what it takes to keep neighborhoods safe.