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Crestview was a fine place to live, but it is gone

A True Community Lost

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Imagine for a moment a neighborhood where neighbors know one another, their children play together, people barbecue and talk out on their front lawns. Picture a community where adults and children play catch, men gather to fix their cars, people watch one another's children, and kids roam the streets on their bicycles. Imagine a place where there is a business center with grocery stores, restaurants, a Laundromat, bakeries and an aging mall, all within walking distance. Imagine renting a home for $500 a month. Imagine sending your children to a school where the teachers are genuinely involved in the community and where the instruction is as diverse as the pupils who speak a variety of different languages. Now imagine being told that over the next two years, you would have to leave that neighborhood to make way for new, more expensive homes for wealthier people. Lastly, imagine realizing that accommodations will not be made for you by the county, the developers, or the housing and social service organizations. This is what has been happening to the Crestview neighborhood near Horsepen and Glenside. I lived in Crestview for a little over a year after returning with my son from Texas. I can tell my story and that of my neighbors when we were faced with the reality that we would have to leave one of the most affordable, comfortable and community-oriented neighborhoods in the metropolitan area. I grew to love Crestview. I loved the fact that black, whites, Latinos, and Asians lived side by side and most often are at least good neighbors if not friends. The quality of life and appreciation for community was high. Even though the siding and roof shingles are slowly falling off many of the houses, and they are fairly unattractive, most people I knew were pleased with their homes. And so was I. In February 2000, I noticed the vacant houses were being torn down and I knew I better start looking for a new place. I searched the classifieds every day for three months, and when I finally found a small house that I could afford, I raced to get first dibs on it .The next day at the open house, there were at least 20 people there to see it along with me; the only reason I got it was because I spent the entire previous day working on getting it. I knew that it took work, time and know-how to rent a house. I also knew that it was going to be much harder for my neighbors, some without cars, without rental histories and without fluent knowledge of the English language to maneuver this procedure. In one instance, I filled out an application for a family where they were given only a six-month lease and were charged a $1,500 deposit on their $750-per-month house. I don't know many people who have $2,250 in cash at their disposal. I suppose the landlord was not willing to risk too much with a non-English speaking tenant with no credit history and just a construction job. Those 15 or so tenants left in Crestview will wait until the very last minute. It will not be a comfortable wait. The construction and demolition have made some roads impassable. Some have heavy equipment parked in their front yards. And the worst is the rats. Since many houses are vacant, the rats that were originally spread around the neighborhood are now concentrated in those few occupied homes. Sitting in the living room of a house the other day, I watched a large rat stroll across the room with no fear of us at all. Crestview was a neighborhood of people who were building on their own with limited resources and have been doing so for years. It didn't matter that they did not own four-bedroom Colonials, they had a genuine community. Something we all crave for our families and ourselves. How is it that a functioning and prospering community could be destroyed with very little publicity or outcry? Why is it that no one with any pull picked up the ball and advocated for the neighborhood? Who really has a vested interest in saving the community? The landlords and developers seem unconcerned with where the tenants will go; profit is first. It was a given that people would be lining up to buy brand new houses so close to the city; it didn't matter what happened there before they arrived. It is also natural to think that the county would promote, support and maybe even subsidize the development of land that would produce more revenue. The county saw little need to assist those who would be displaced; nor did they see fit to find a way to use that land for new affordable housing. A number of social-services organizations wanted to help and voiced concern for the displaced residents, but they could do little. They were already stretched to their limit. Where would they get the extra funding or manpower to assist with mass relocation in any systematic way? Crestview, in many ways, was the essence of an ideal community. It is ironic that the neighborhood encompassed exactly what suburban housing developers like to claim as the "good life" in many new subdivisions, yet no one seemed to feel that it was important to preserve this for Crestview. Maybe some think that the only ones who deserve the "good life" are those with enough money to buy it new. The community feeling in Crestview will never be regained. It is lost forever. The old residents have been littered across the metro area; many will never see each other again. The new residents will never find the "good life" in what used to be Crestview .For it is not the new home with all the amenities that makes a prosperous and enjoyable community. It is the people. Cecily Reyes is a former resident of Crestview who works for a national nonprofit organization. Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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