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The View From the Hill

Resevoir Hill Residents in Their Own Write

Part six of a series.

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By Eileen Murphy | Posted 12/26/2001

A couple of years ago, I realized that every time I began covering a new beat, I found a way to report on it by writing about Reservoir Hill. While I was covering the peace-and-justice community, I wrote about a Quaker organization's listening project in Reservoir Hill. I switched to reporting on the arts, and I discovered the neighborhood was overrun with photographers, painters, mosaicists, musicians, and more. I learned about Baltimore's zoning problems and soon after wrote an article about a zoning disagreement in Reservoir Hill.

It wasn't an accident. I loved the neighborhood--the houses were gorgeous, the residents friendly and interesting. And more than anything, I was intrigued. Reservoir Hill had the most diversity--ethnic, economic, social--of any neighborhood I'd encountered in Baltimore. It wasn't all peace and harmony, but most of the residents didn't want to live anywhere else.

When I approached my editors about writing a year-long series on Reservoir Hill, I imagined that by the time I was done I'd really know the neighborhood. I figured I'd tackle it topic by topic, using the issues of urban life--crime, trash, failing schools--as a tool to learn everything there was to know about Reservoir Hill.

I was kidding myself. This neighborhood--enormous by some measures, intimate by others--is far too complex for my simple plan. In some respects, I was right from the start. The houses are gorgeous, and over the course of a year I managed to get inside some of the most beautiful ones. The residents are amazing--hard-working, committed, outspoken, and unfailingly generous with their time.

The problems I'd anticipated were there too, but they were more nuanced than I'd imagined. And they were almost never problems of neglect--the people of Reservoir Hill were working tirelessly on every issue, even as they sometimes struggled with seeming official indifference and their own neighbors' worst instincts.

I fell in love with the neighborhood children when I watched a little boy learn how to swing a hammer and discover that he had a gift for building. I became an optimist for a day when I witnessed an incredible principal turning an inner-city elementary school into an exciting and warm place to be. I was reminded of the difference one person can make as I sat in an older woman's apartment and listened to her stories of teen programs and trash pickups; her walls were covered with photos of young people and plaques presented in her honor. I understood the meaning of perseverance when I spoke with a man who refused to give up his dream home and spent 18 years pressing the city take responsibility for the abandoned house next-door.

And so, after a year of having me speak for them--often to their great dissatisfaction--we thought it important to give the residents a chance to speak for themselves. The seven people who responded to our solicitation don't just live in the neighborhood--they live the neighborhood. As we end this series, we want Reservoir Hill to have the final word.

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Preacher, Teacher, Forger, Spy (4/16/2008)
From Bounty Hunter to Bible Thumper, Pastor Anthony Hill Presents a Paradox

More from Eileen Murphy

Home Front (11/7/2001)
In The Struggle To Renew Reservoir Hill, Housing Is The Biggest Battleground

Growing Pains (10/10/2001)
A Reservoir Hill Childhood, Yesterday and Today

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (9/26/2001)

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