on thinking about citylife and graffiti

originally posted to Prince of Petworth in response to "New Apartments At Georgia Ave. and New Hampshire Gets Tagged And I Get Intimidated By Street Thugs".

Cities reflect its creators/developers first, then they are enhanced/redacted/molded by those of us who live in it AND choose to have a presence. And, the latter ain't easy whether regardless of color or place of origin.

The exchanges above reminded me of a Peter Ackroyd quote I posted here 20080403:

Cities do not change over the centuries. They represent the aspirations of particular men and women to lead a common life; as a result their atmosphere, their tone, remain the same. Those people whose relations are founded principally upon commerce and upon the ferocious claims of domestic privacy will construct a city as dark and as ugly as London was. And is. Those people who wish to lead agreeable lives, and in constant intercourse with one another, will build a city as beautiful and as elegant as Paris. (from Dickens)
We live in relationship to our cities and towns. And, each of us has a temperament that reacts differently to the surroundings. I've not witnessed a shooting or seen someone killed right before me but there's been no shortage of shady things or death's leftovers. I've only lived in urban areas. Yet, DC feels the most foreign but that could just be a function of my aging.

I've lived in Petworth for over 3 years. Before that it was in Dorchester, MA; and backwards respectively: Jamaica Plain, MA; Providence, RI; and Memphis, TN. The color of my skin is Brown and I am a mom. I was raised to say "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am". I know how to be a lady and choose to dress for comfort. That means I've scared little old ladies when exiting from the women's restroom; and, once was hassled at the local bodega b/c well...he was certain I was shoplifting (in reality I was rushing, I'd left something simmering on the stove a few blocks away, needed a can of something, and found the store lacking.)

But when I went to college people often told me that my affect, or demeanor, made them think me from NYC. In discussion, it seem to boil down to the fact that I had good ego boundaries and nothing bothered me. I'm not easily rattled -- generally. College is also when I had the epiphany that I was working class. So it is a solidly middle class household into which our child arrived.

This boy child feels safe in the interiors we control but he's also privy what he gleans from the streets we walk en route to school, the park, etc. Inside he knows our house where he has some 300+ that are his he knows his life is different from many of his public school peers. He's come of age in Dorchester and DC, and it's safe to say he'd rather live in the suburbs, or if in DC be closer to 16th where there's no grafitti -- and, where he imagines that the brown-skinned males he'd see would be less threatening.

So, my temperament differs remarkedly from my 10 year old who's only lived in DC and Dorchester. He's constantly rattled by normal city things -- people, sounds, cops -- things we'd not expose him to if we had control but when it's a crime scene in front of your house, or in the block next to you...or the kids who talk of guns in a way that exudes familiarity to him even if I might know it to be bluster...or his keen eyes always spots our neighborhood as we intentionally scan past the TV news channels -- that's how he found out about the body at Ronan Park where he'd no longer go and play. Is it wonder that he doesn't like being out after dark. He doesn't run the streets so what he sees confuses him. So he's truly a kid when he whispers to me that he thinks that girl over there on the bus is too young to be a mom. Or when he's perplexed by why anyone young or old would smoke. I don't understand tagging but I love Keith Haring. I can't skateboard but he wants to so I feel that I can't just ignore graffiti. It's ugly (often), it's communication (sometimes); and, it's part of living in a city and sometimes is a valid commentary on living and/or feeling ignored.

Having a child can make you see things differently. And, for him city life is by its very nature much more anxiety-causing. My inclination is to remain uninvolved, and more than once it's his insistence that's led to my calling [---] to deal....with the drunk neighbor wandering the street, feral cats, or whatever. DC confuses me more than other places I've lived. Yet in the last two, it's what our child doesn't see -- people involved and caring -- that keeps him scared. And, that would be true regardless of what had been tagged.