16 December 2002

1780 Madison Avenue Substation

Before the internet and world wide web became ubiquitous and transformed into a giant commercial abyss serving soliciation and mindless time killing aids, I thought of the net as being a power of liberation. A tool of mass communication that enabled every online denizen to showcase wonderous creativity, share cerebral thoughts, and tap into one giant master mind that would power all the globe into a golden age unseen in any past nation's history. It's not the first time I've been tagged a idyllic dreamer, detached from the vulgar reality of common life form behavoir. And alas, a quick glance at that Lycos 50 most entered search queries shows the online realm inundated with hunts for such weighty topics as 'Tatoos', 'Britney Spears', 'Pamela Anderson' and the file sharing program du jour to enable limitless copying of music and video. I guess I put too much hope in humanity.

But every now and then, I stumble across a story that encapsulates my early vision of the potential power of this new medium. Here is the latest such example: Brian Taylor and his brother, who live in a crack-infested Baltimore neighborhood, are using the world wide web to improve their lot. They've turned their old carriage house into a police substation at no cost to the taxpayers and set up a weblog at www.rebuildingmadison.info to share their fears, frustrations and victories.

A project history is chronicled, along with photos of the substation and miscreants lurking nearby and log entries like this one:

He told Vaughn his is not the worst slum in town. Maybe not, but it is bad in every conceivable way. He has violated a consent decree ... yet again. His tenants live in squalor. By night, his building is the McDonalds of crack. He visits his building to collect rent and pretend to work on it during business days when I would think he'd be at his desk or working at his job as a sanitation department supervisor with the city. He owes nearly $11,000 in back taxes and fines to the city. Who does he know?

Some text from another "log entry":

Annette, my neighbor from the crack house next door is walking around in circles tonight, scouring the sidewalk in search of a small vial with a brightly colored cap that might have a tiny speck of unused crack. She's jonesing, as I think the kids used to call it. Until last night, her apartment in the ground floor front of Clarence Weston's slum house at 1704 was a warehouse of crack and heroin. In return for her letting them use her place, she got all she wanted. Mostly just to shut her up. Often she's been abused by these same dealers, roughed up for getting in the way. From the looks of her tonight, she'd gladly take some abuse for just one more hit.

But tonight, it's pretty quiet. The only activity has been a few sullen dealers sauntering down the street. No one hanging out except the occasional bewildered customer pulling up, wondering where their dealers are. Some have even honked, waiting. I'm sure as the bars close, I'll see it more and more though no doubt a few brave guys will surface nearby to cover the demand.


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