Our View: Cultural differences should not mean community division


Rather than cultivate connections in their neighborhood, the residents of two adjacent housing developments have drawn thick lines of division along their differences. The rift between wealthy homeowners and public housing residents in Old Town is indicative of a bigger problem in Alexandria: a lack of cohesive community.
An article in the Alexandria Gazette sparked outrage in the Hopkins and Tancil public housing developments by suggesting crime from the projects has drifted into the luxury townhouses of Chatham Square across the street, to the chagrin of some wealthy residents. The news story mobilized public housing residents, most of them black, and resulted in a fiery confluence of 150 residents and police officers to discuss the storys perceived inaccuracies at Charles Houston Recreation Center last week.
At this point, Chatham Square residents had talked to the press; public housing residents had talked to the police. But who had talked with one another?
The communication vacuum between these neighbors is a self-induced cultural roadblock and needs mending. Its up to individuals white, black, rich, poor, shy and gregarious to do it. And City Hall must foster it.
When the Chatham Square homes were built 10 years ago, city planners touted them as a way to foster economic and racial diversity and tolerance. By building luxury homes in the same complex as low- and mid-income homes, planners thought poor children would share the playground slide with the privileged. Instead, neighbors are neighbors by proximity only, and any sense of community there is on a slippery slope.
City Hall alerted local media of the resident-led Charles Houston meeting but failed to alert Chatham Square residents. Granted, it was not a city-sponsored meeting (though it was held at a city-owned venue), but the one-sided gathering was just that a missed opportunity for both parties to talk. 
Rather than hiring an off-duty police officer to patrol the streets, walk down the street and meet your neighbors. Throw a block party. Meet each other. Discuss community issues safety, quality of life as a community, not as enemies, and arrive at inclusive conclusions to improve the neighborhood. In the process, strangers just might become neighbors.