A Slum by Any Other Name

Posted on July 2, 2012

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Market Square this morning. The DPW barrel is half full of trash. It stinks.

I heard her say that word. “You’d call this a slum? I asked.

Wearily: “I don’t know…the rats, appliances left on the sidewalk…yeah, I’d call this a slum.”

She’s lived on Howard St. for 10 years. We were talking about–you guessed it–the rats.

The word slum touched a nerve. I certainly didn’t want to admit I lived in a slum. She went on to say, “A slum isn’t a location; it’s a behavior, an attitude.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. A slum is a depressed, run down area. Certainly many pockets of Lynn fit that description. So how do you know you’re living in a slum?

You might be living in a slum if you see graffiti on closed-up metal-shuttered businesses.

You might be living in a slum if people throw garbage out their window into the adjacent lot.

You might be living in a slum if you find a TV or sofa on the curb outside your house, and it isn’t yours.

You might be living in a slum if a gang shooting took place around the corner recently.

You might be living in a slum if you can sit on your front porch and observe the nightly migration of rats darting back and forth across the street.

You might be living in a slum if the house that caught fire 6 months ago is still standing.

A house on Williams Ave., shortly after a fire in March.

The same house, this morning.

You might be living in a slum if the car next door has been up on cinderblocks for over 3 years.

These are all red flags that you might be living in a slum, which is to say that if you are familiar with only one or two of these signs, you might not live in a slum. But if you are familiar with most of them, you might as well face reality and call it what it is. In fact, to hear this woman say, “Yes, I’d call this a slum,” was somehow empowering because it wasn’t denial.

Perhaps the slums of Mumbai are a good deal worse than our slums in America, so I shouldn’t complain.

Does the lot next door look like this? You might be living in a slum.

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