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Neighborhoods at Risk
Photo: MorgueFile
When businesses are sold or close, changes take place in a neighborhood. As the mix of neighborhood elements is altered, the impact deepens more than one might expect.

The Washington Post on November 24, 2006, featured a story about a neighborhood with a "significant poverty level" in Washington, D.C., that literally finds itself in an unhealthy condition. “The seedy commercial strip with the liquor store and carryout deli was once anchored by a pharmacy. A Baptist congregation worships in the neighborhood’s former Safeway (grocery store). The Spic N Span market on the corner closed years ago, and the bakery that perfumed the air with the aroma of fresh bread is now a trash transfer station.”

As the traditional stores left, so did health care providers. Now citizens in the Hayes neighborhood, one of several areas east of the Anacostia River, “go halfway across the city, or miles into Prince George’s County (Maryland), for medical care, medicines, even fresh produce.”

As a result of the lack of care and “high rates of chronic illness and mortality, Ward 7, in particular, suffers disproportionately from heart disease, cancer, hypertension and asthma. Nowhere in the city is there more obesity.”

More Obesity

Contributing to the obesity is the lack of supermarkets for the 70,000 residents of Ward 7. “In a July report to the Mayor’s Commission on Food and Nutrition, researchers rated it D- for access to well-stocked grocery shelves. That and a surfeit of fast food and carryout help explain why more than four in 10 residents were obese by 2003, according to the report.”

Despite the documentation of the need, there is no agreement about the solution. The D.C. General Hospital was closed in 2001. While some push for a replacement hospital, others promote the idea of establishing doctors’ offices and treatment centers near residential areas.

As the debate continues about how to restore lost services, a neighborhood church is inviting medical students to go door-to-door while other plans call for a farmers’ market next summer.

If the residents can hang on long enough, “the city’s New Community Initiatives, the avenue is to be transformed by a multi-million town center. There’ll be townhouses, condos and retail shops. The design leaves no room for an earth-quaking transfer station.”

One wonders whether the retirees and other residents of the area with a “significant poverty factor” will be able to afford living in the area once it is transformed.

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