Friday, April 13, 2007

The Nose Hairs of the City

WFMY news picked up the lead story from my neighborhood's newsletter and it led on the 11 p.m. news a a few days ago. It was about how we dealt with a panhandler who was knocking on people's doors at all hours of the night.

I was tempted to call the reporter and let fly with some profanity: why didn't he cover the fact that we recently completed an extensive corridor study for Summit Avenue? Or that one of our neighbors won a historic preservation award? Or that we've started a yard-of-the-month beautification contest? Or that we supported the rezoning of one of our properties so that it can become a communal care facility for retirees?

But that's just the way of local news. If it bleeds -- or, in our case, if there is some remote possibility that someone might think about bleeding-- it leads.

Actually, the panhandling problem had been solved for weeks by the time WFMY got hold of the story, and I think the way we solved it is noteworthy.

We have a neighborhood listserv to which most of our homeowners and some of our renters subscribe. When the panhandler in question started bothering people, emails started hitting the listserv fast and furious, with a description of the guy, his car, his m.o., and his licence plate. Our community resource officer, who also is subscribed, weighed in with advice about what to do (short version: don't open your door, offer to call social services if the person is asking for money, call the police).

The neighborhood association put much of this information in the neighborhood newsletter for the neighbors who aren't on the listserv.

The police started tracking down the owner of the car in question, and the guy was gone in short order. The whole episode is a great illustration of how neighborhoods are using technology to help solve their problems.

But I don't suppose the WFMY story did our neighborhood much good in terms of public perceptions. Plenty of people will see that and think that we live in a bad neighborhood.

I understand why a lot of people prefer to live in a "good" neighborhood, if by "good" you mean one where panhandlers and petty criminals never make an appearance.

But I hope people will remember that neighborhoods like mine (and Greensboro has a lot of them) are to some extent running interference for the rest of the city. Or, as my neighbor put it, we're the "nose hairs of the city," filtering out problems before they infect the rest of the body.

And if a "good" neighborhood is one where good people live, I'll put mine up against any neighborhood anywhere.


Roch101 said...

I didn't see the WFMY story, did they report how your community used the internet for public safety?

tiff said...


I found the story about the panhandler very interesting. I am currently looking into relocating to Greensboro from New Jersey, and i found your site. Do you have any
advice for me. I've never been to North Carolina and i want a new start.

David Wharton said...

Roch, the video doesn't mention it, but there's something about it on the FMY's website.

Tigger, can't give you good advice without knowing what you're looking for. I can only say I like it where I live now!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, local news everywhere seems to report the bad stuff, not the good. The Cornhill section of Utica, NY is very bad (a police officer was just killed there, drugs are everywhere, etc), and that seems to be the news. Nothing else is going on in Utica! :-o Oh, except for the fact that spring break was shortened because of all the snow days and a bunch of teachers and many students decided not to show up for school on the first day back because they already had vacation plans!