May 5, 2007

One fine spring.

The apartment building has been reliably quiet of late, and I'm much happier, as might be shown by my lack of recent posts. Incidentally, I've also been quite a bit more productive in my software development, and have started to feel quite comfortable and safe in the neighborhood. There are some more condos that are opening up nearby that I expect will have a positive impact on the neighborhood, and with spring in full effect I've been able to ride my bike quite a bit more. The Stevens neighborhood is magically situated in the middle of everything, between uptown and downtown, the lakes district and the University, easy access to the freeway, it's really very pleasant.

One of my favorite things is to ride my fixed-gear Bianchi at night or during storms up Nicollet to the green-way, which is like a freeway for bicyclists, and take that under Uptown, ride hard around the Lake of the Isles, and then up the massive hill on Franklin, back toward Hennepin and across, down the hill toward the Wedge on Lyndale, where I stop for a recharge and putter home. It is a delicious and scenic ride.

I'll post pictures soon of the hanging vines on the side of the building--one of my favorite things in the spring and summer. There are pigeons that live on the windowsill in my bathroom. My lease was set to expire on July 1 and I had considered giving two months notice, but because of the diligence of the people in this community I have discovered a new sense of confidence and decided not to leave. I'm looking forward to another scorching summer and pleasant autumn in my new home.

April 1, 2007

A very quiet Sunday

Today has been the quietest and most relaxing Sunday I can remember in some time here at Mallbrook. I've been resting and enjoying the quiet all afternoon.

It is the first of the month, so the garbage situation in the back alley has emerged once again--the dumpsters are overfilled and spilling into the alley. I don't think this is too difficult to solve, nor is it necessarily caused by folks in our building. There are six buildings that share an immediate vicinity to our plot of alleyway, and this tends to concentrate the problem. One thing that could help dramatically is if all of the apartment buildings on the block reminded their tenants that they were required to use garbage bags. It seems like a simple and common-sense thing to do, but I often see people upturning containers and dumping the garbage directly into the dumpsters. Homeless people will later come by and rifle through all of the loose garbage looking for blankets or alcohol, discarded clothing, and aluminum cans. I also think that we could use two more dumpsters--four to be shared by six buildings is proving insufficient. This, however, would cut into parking space and might prove impossible.

When people vacate and move into the building, I think there is a tendency to overstress the railings in the back staircase. The railings coming up from the ground floor to the second floor have shaken loose and need to be reaffixed to the wall. It's probably just wear and tear, but it's noteworthy.

I also saw today that the security camera was wrenched around and pointing at the wall near the first floor rear entry. I turned it back to face the entrance, but I'm not sure if it's actually connected yet, after being damaged earlier in March. These two minor issues and a burned out lightbulb on the third floor hallway mark the only areas of improvement that leapt to mind today.

Make no mistake. The difference in atmosphere between today and two weeks ago is palpable. I feel like a siege is being lifted on the building, and I'm very happy to spend a quiet and restful day at home.

March 31, 2007

Coalition of the Winning

The good news is that the efforts of the MPD, our building's management team, and at least six residents (by my count) have immeasurably improved the quality of life here in a very short period of time, and we did it by speaking out. This is the only way to keep the information flowing.

I welcome all of the other Mallbrook tenants to join me in sharing information and helping us keep a watch on our neighborhood, starting with our own building and the streets and alleys that surround it. The good news is that this isn't hard or even dangerous.

In the next few weeks I'm going to look into buying an outdoor patio table and chaining it to one of the fences inside of the community garden areas, so that we can spend time outside in the back alley, perhaps get a small charcoal grill, and help get some eyes on the alley. I know that this can be done, because several of the Residence Halls on the University Campus have similar setups. If anyone is known for stealing outdoor furniture and doing crazy/stupid/illegal stuff with it, it's rowdy college guys. So, if the University can pull it off, I'm sure we can set something up in our alley.

Once we have a place to meet, we can hold cookouts and the like. Bring out a transistor radio, listen to baseball games, and generally have peaceful gatherings that are respectful of our neighbors' need for quiet while keeping some eyes on the alley. Spending time back there will give us more opportunities to police it for litter and garbage, and if anyone in the building has a dormant green thumb they might help maintain some of the area gardens.

Thanks again to the folks in the building who've spoken up and helped management to clean up our home. We're winning.

The efforts of management are definitely helping

This building's management has been extremely active and responsive to the problems we've been having of late. I don't want to give the impression that they're not working on our side or are ignoring the problems here, because they are most definitely not.

I think that the best recipe for success in resolving problems with crime in apartment buildings is when law abiding tenants keep an open channel of communication with their landlords. Good news and bad news should flow both ways, (as long as the privacy of the tenants isn't violated, of course). The reason that problems in Mallbrook got as bad as they have is, in my opinion, because we the tenants were probably more forgiving and timid than we should have been. Since the building managers don't live in the building, they don't know what we don't tell them.

Although the last few weeks in the building have been a very frightening experience, the management of the building is convinced that these problem tenants aren't nearly as organized or intelligent as they might have frightened us into believing. So far nobody (that I know of) has been injured and all of the problem tenants have been very cooperative in leaving the building when asked. I had a very peaceful night's sleep on Thursday.

The other tenants in the building whom I've met in the last two weeks have been nothing but kind and considerate, decent people. We're definitely in the majority, and I foresee a very stable and comfortable living situation coming into form this summer. One of the things that I'm keen on doing is cleaning up the garden spaces between the buildings, getting the trash out of them, and finding ways to help the neighborhood dog owners clean up after their pets so our sidewalks don't get littered on.

March 30, 2007

"Crew Cool"

A comment from a reader worthy of printing sheds a little light on what happened in our building, from the perspective of one of the tenants. A seemingly-organized crew of drug dealers tried to take over our apartment building in an attempt to keep it "crew cool". They were in all likelihood not really organized, but as lucky as we were quiet.

The account below paints a picture of a very organized group of dealers, and if this report is correct, they do this in multiple locations in South Minneapolis on a rotating basis.

Here's the report I received today:

"I have lived here for a few years and have seen some pretty rough stuff, but lately it has gone to a new low. The guy on the second floor in 210 is pretty bad he has people coming and going at all times.

Most of the people I recognize as being a part of a drug crew. Their behavior is pretty bad they will rob you blind. The crew watches the building to make sure there are no cops so they scope us out as well. They had three apartments facing the back and one in front that also kept fraternizing and getting high together as they kept the building "crew cool" so the mules can come and go.

The crew cycles as a group on one week they are up near Park Ave the next they are near Clinton Ave and so on.

I noticed last night that we had a unusual amount of the crew in our area again. The guy on our floor has been quite for a while but looks out his window a lot waiting on his friends. He has now started taking a few guests (crew, mules) again.

There's another guy on the second floor who is one of his buddies and some times they know the same people. They move from one apartment to another to control their stash as they hookup people. These guys don’t look like kids, but they sure know a lot of them (other peoples). I know one thing they are not easy to control and have tried to play me when it comes to the hall or front and back doors. Well guy more power to you for being strong and voicing out. The police need to be directed a tad more so they can control these guys.

This is chilling new information, but I think that it's out-dated by the recent evictions of several problem tenants. If the building was ever "crew cool", it certainly won't be from now on.

My thanks go out to the others in the neighborhood who are coming forward with more information, and especially those who have volunteered to send me photographs. Please send all the photos you think would be helpful.

March 29, 2007

Cleaning up the streets. With a broom.

Forty dollars can buy you a sturdy push broom, a rake, a tough dust pan and a roll of outdoor garbage bags in South Minneapolis. That, a little heavy lifting, and the time since my last post is what it took to clean up all of the broken glass, cigarette butts, garbage, paper, broken concrete, and other assorted garbage in the back alley tonight. One of the residents of the building helped me, and he told me some of the horror stories from the first floor.

I was very grateful for his help. The only spot that really gave me trouble was this 150 lb. piece of concrete that I had to heft into one of the dumpsters alone. When I was in high school I cut, hauled and split firewood for gas money, and I'm still in decent shape, so this hopefully won't have caused any lasting harm.

The other resident and I spoke briefly about getting a couple of lawn chairs and a barbeque grill around here. It'd be nice to go spend some time down in that alleyway, roast some brats, and listen to the Twins season opener. Eyes on the street is the only thing that will really help the crime problems, and we're going to see what we can do to keep cleaning things up.

All quiet in Mallbrook

The last couple of months have been hard here, but they've recently culminated in a lot of effort and attitude change by the people who live in the building and especially the management. I think, perhaps, things are improving.

I was going to go to a neighborhood council meeting tonight, but decided to go buy a push broom and dustpan instead. I'm going to go out into the back alley and sweep up some of the garbage. A neighborhood sees itself in the cleanliness of its most hidden parts. If an alleyway is filled with heaps of garbage and littered with broken glass, how are people supposed to take pride in it?

The first job I ever had was when I was 10 years old. I pushed a broom around restaurant and grocery store parking lots in a small town in Northwestern Wisconsin for 20 bucks apiece. This money I saved up to pay for boy scout camp in the summers. I have had many different jobs, but I'm not too proud to go back to the principles of that first one.

March 23, 2007

Pounding on the doors

It's 4:00 AM.

I've now arrived in Dinkytown, in a safe and quiet place that I can write from. It took me an hour to get here, as I left directly after sending my last letter. The image of the door across the hall, to apartment #309, kicked in like that . . . and the pounding, reverberating through the halls.

On my way out, I saw the broken door across the hall. Why is it kicked in? Who would do it? Not the building management--they surely have backup keys. Not the police, I imagine. They could get keys from management. Perhaps someone without a key to that apartment who is nevertheless living there? Perhaps the same person who was pounding on the front door of the building. I don't know the answers.

On my way down the stairs, before I was going to leave through the rear exit, two men standing in the front entrance saw me and started pounding with their bare fists on the glass and door frame. The noise was tremendous--I suspect they woke everyone in the entire building. They'd woken me on the third floor, and had apparently been going from front to back in order to increase their chances of being heard.

I turned and considered them. I felt like Eddie Vedder looked while singing "Masters of War". The part where he asks if the money's that good. Strangely appropriate.

And that cold fury, painted with fear--like an oil slick on an antifreeze spill--gripped me. I took out my cell phone and walked toward the front door. I didn't say anything to the men in the front, but only took their photographs, then turned around and left quietly through the rear exit. They howled and pounded on the door, with absolute disregard for anyone trying to sleep in the building.

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Now I'm going to curl up and try to get a couple of hours of sleep.

Shouts for Bill in the middle of the night

Tonight's problems started at 2:07 AM. I was woken up by men in the back alley yelling up to "Bill". They go away after a while and I start to drift back to sleep. Then, at 2:34 AM I'm woken again by men making loud bird noises up to the building, trying to wake someone up on the third floor. It's that same damned bird whooping, like they're in an old western movie.

2:40 AM as I write this. There are loud, deep pounding noises on the doors downstairs. I'm terrified to go down.

I'm going to get dressed and walk to Dinkytown to sleep on a friend's couch. It's dark, I'm afraid to turn the lights on. I don't want them to know I'm leaving. The pounding continues. I can hear it, two floors beneath me. I dress and get everything I need, then look through the keyhole.

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Everything seems clear, so I leave.

March 22, 2007

Door kicked in across the hall

Last evening as I was coming home I noticed that the door to the apartment across the hall from me has been forcibly broken down. The wood is all torn away from the deadbolt, like it was violently kicked in.

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Who would have done this? Not the building management--they have a master key. Not the police--they could get a key from management. Unless it were an emergency, I don't think the police enter like that. And there wasn't police tape or anything, so that narrows it down quite a bit.

The most likely explanation is that someone who isn't a legal tenant but is nevertheless living in that apartment broke in. The keys to the building have "Do Not Copy" stamped into them, so I imagine there aren't a lot of copies floating around.

Very very frightening.

March 19, 2007

Sabotaged Security Camera

The security camera facing the back alley of the building has been sabotaged. Its cable is severed and hanging from the ceiling about three feet from the camera unit. This was no accident--it's been deliberately severed. Here's a photo:

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The building manager has gotten involved and she assures me she's going to take immediate action to get this place cleaned up and respectable again. I'm grateful for the work week, and need to get away from this place for a while.

March 17, 2007

Noise in the back alley

A black man driving a red car drives up to the back door and starts honking his horn, looking out the window toward the third floor. I grab a photo of his car. He honks for a couple of minutes, then drives away. His car is here:

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More hollering in the back allleyway

More trouble in the back alley. This time a bald white man, thin, with a fur-lined hood around his shoulders is looking up at the third floor of my building and whistling, again, like a bird. He gets into a beat up white and blue sedan, old and broken down with patches on the rear hood. They begin to drive away.

A group of three guys come out of the building next door and walk to their shiny white sedan, minding their own business. The men in the beat up car flag one of them and he walks over to their car. He shakes his head and I hear him say "sorry, not today" and return to his friend's car. The two cars leave separately.

Hollering in the back alley

2:38 PM, Saturday 17 March 2007. Hollering in the back alleyway. Two african americans in baggy clothing drive up in a minivan. Blueish green. They're making whistling noises like they're birds. They mill about for a few minutes. Someone on my floor goes down to the alley. A few minutes later I hear a man with a booming voice yelling obscenities in the alley. The two get back into the minivan and drive away.

March 16, 2007

Smoking in the Hallways

Today while I was leaving to go to the Wedge for some groceries, there were a couple of people smoking in the hallways. It didn't smell like cigarette smoke, so at first I thought it might be a fire in the building and got a little worried. I asked them if they knew what was wrong, and they told me it was a cigarette and that they were sorry. It was odd. They apologized for the "extra traffic" and told me they were "staying with their Uncle in the building for a while". I didn't ask where they were staying, but wish I had.

Actually, I wish I'd called the police. Next time I see them I'm going to. I did take their photographs however. Here they are--a male and a female who turned her back so I couldn't get her face on camera.

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I calmly told them that I was going to alert the building manager, but the woman was very upset that I took her photograph, and told me she was going to call 911. I would have welcomed that, but I know that the City of Minneapolis has ordinances against smoking in common indoor areas so wasn't worried at all.

A few hours later I decided to start this blog. I need somewhere I can log all of the stuff that happens in this building, because I live here and I don't feel safe. The livability problems contribute to an overall atmosphere of crime and impoverishment that end up inviting larger problems.