The people and situations described in this January 2006 article are quite real, but nothing much has improved, and the story is still worth telling. I live within just a few miles of some of the places described: residences without running water, electricity, and more. The average income in this area is actually above the median, but that bare figure hides the extreme disparity between rich and poor that exists in a rural are less than an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C.
A brief pullquote:
It’s a quiet weekday afternoon like all the rest: nowhere to go and no way to get there anyway. She leans against a picnic table, sipping beer. An unemployed man living with her off and on, Lowell Keys, has already pulled the day’s water from the neighbor’s well.
She might wash the clothes later, if the washing machine worked.”It’s rough living down here, for real, though,” she says. “I would love to get me a decent home with running water. That’s all I need.”
It’s a question that never goes away: how can communities be improved without destroying them in the process? Where can the cycle be broken: substandard housing; unreliable transportation; lack of basic amenities such as gas stations, small employers, shops; unemployment; inadequate heath care; and a host of personal and family issues that arise in connection with all of these? These are community questions that call for critical thinking about how housing, economic development, transportation, health care, education, environmental protection all need to be considered together.
The first thing, however, is to let the scope of the challenge see the light of day. For this reason I encourage the reading of this January 2006 Washington Post article, as a necessary first step.