ABERDEEN – To the Census Bureau, the section of Aberdeen sandwiched between Route 40 and the Aberdeen Proving Ground is an almost-perfect demographic reflection of the state of Maryland.
To a group of men and women who live in Washington Park, a housing project that is part of census tract 3029.01, the area is “hell, hell, hell.”
“I call HUD and they don’t call me back,” says one woman.
“It’s a one-way, dead-end street of entrapment,” says another. “As much as you pay to live ghetto-fab, they should have much more to do for the kids.”
But down the road apiece, Joe Hodges thinks of his neighborhood as “a great place.”
“I’ve always loved Aberdeen,” says the World War II veteran, his hands stained green from mowing the lush grass around his tidy two-story home.
His only complaint: Some of his neighbors “don’t keep their lawns too nice. The neighborhood would look a whole lot better if people cut the grass at least once a week.”
That diversity of opinion reflects the diversity of people in tract 3029.01, a jagged parcel that begins just west of Route 40 and Bel Air Avenue and fans out toward the Aberdeen Proving Ground. The tract matches Maryland’s overall racial and ethnic makeup better than any other tract in the state, according to a Capital News Service examination of census data.
Maryland is 64 percent white, 28 percent black and 4.3 percent Hispanic, according to census 2000. The tract is 63 percent white, 30 percent black and 3.4 percent Hispanic. “Some other race” accounts for 1.8 percent of the state’s population and 1.9 percent in the tract, while people claiming two or more races made up 2 percent of the state and 3 percent of the tract.
“That’s what I’ve been saying all along, that we’re Maryland in miniature,” says City Manager Peter A. Dacey.
The tract itself includes everything from crackerbox rentals and trailer parks to a handful of stately colonials buffered from the rest of the tract by a swath of open land. Besides Washington Park, it includes the neighborhoods of North Deen, Spring Valley and Baldwin Manor. There is a slice of the new downtown, with the Ripken Museum, as well as a section of historic Aberdeen.
Dacey said a variety of factors contribute to the city’s racial and ethnic mix, including nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground which brings an “international flavor” to the community. The abundance of affordable housing — there are about 600 subsidized housing units in the city — is inviting to those with lower incomes.
“We have a very diverse population in terms of our economics, our incomes,” says Dacey.
But in tract 3029.01, that diversity is reflected at least as much in residents’ views of their community as it is in race and class. Interviews with more than a dozen people found a patchwork of attitudes about life in Maryland’s mirror.
“You’ve picked the worst neighborhood,” says Steven McClain, a neighbor of Hodges’ who rents a modest single-family home near Washington Park.
McClain says he only stays in his mostly white working-class enclave to retain custody of his 6-year-old son. If he left Maryland, he could lose custody to the boy’s mother.
“It’s for him, it’s not for me,” he says. “So I’ll just suck it up for the next 12 years.”
McClain says the alley near his house is a shortcut between two drug markets for dealers in the area. Although no one has bothered him so far, he said the activity can be nerve-wracking.
“It’s just the sense that something could happen, because it’s not amazing to hear a gunshot in the summertime,” he says.
But city officials say efforts are under way to clean up the area. The city got funding from the HotSpot program — which targets high-crime areas across the state — and a local developer has started renovating rental housing in nearby low-income neighborhoods, with an eye to selling them to individual homeowners.
To some residents of 3029.01, that effort has already paid off.
Down the road a few blocks from McClain’s home, at the southwest edge of the tract, Alberto Barnes is chatting outside her low-rise apartment building. Dogs bark at each other over the drone of a lawnmower and two boys, one black and one white, circle the parking lot on bikes.
“Hi, baby, how’re you doing?” Barnes says as the boys greet her.
Just a year or so ago, Barnes said, the neighborhood was “the pit stop, drive-through, pick-up, whatever you want” drug area. It was so bad that Barnes used binoculars to track her grandson on his way to school.
“I didn’t want anybody to say anything to my grandchild or molest him or hand him some drugs,” she said.
But now, she said, there are no beer cans to kick, no hypodermic needles to pick up. “It’s home again. The birds are singing.”
And she doesn’t need her binoculars anymore, “unless I’m trying to be nosy.”
Barnes said the could not really comment on the diversity of her apartment building “because most people don’t come outside.” Just down the road, however, two teen-age girls out for an afternoon stroll were sure their community is as blended as it could be.
“I think black and white’s even,” says Candice Fulks, 15.
“And people don’t discriminate,” says her cousin, Crystal McMillion, 15. “They just treat each other the same.”
“It doesn’t matter what color you are, because everybody’s basically mixed,” adds Candice. “I have black and white, I’m mixed. And she’s mixed with Puerto Rican.”
Pat Dubree, 40, says her neighbors are “friendly, they’re tolerant.” She likes her neighborhood, a mostly white, blue-collar community across the road from Washington Park, for its sense of security and cohesion. “It’s a lot of people looking out for other people,” she said.
Just across the street, Dana Wander finds almost nothing redeeming about the neighborhood.
“There’s always arguing and bickering and something going on,” said Wander, who moved here from Baltimore a year ago. “Yelling and screaming, throwing things. . . and the racial slurs, it’s all the time.”
But down the block, dusk falls as Clara Bell watches her son work on a car. She says that she and her husband, two of the few blacks who live in this part of the tract, chose it because of its serenity.
“If I wanted a lot of noise and rowdiness, I’d go across the street,” the retired state worker says, referring to Washington Park.
And for now, she says, she will stay.
“I was thinking about moving, but I can’t find another place I like as much,” she says.