Ms. Genevieve Dent
Blight and crime may stand alone as the two most commonly cited sources of dissatisfaction in the St. Roch neighborhood, but it is a more basic complaint which most irritates Ms. Genevieve Dent of 1314 St. Roch Avenue.
“I know it might sound small,” says Ms. Dent, who has watched life in St. Roch unfold from her front porch for more than 20 years, “but you know what gets me more than anything? I cannot stand it – I just absolutely cannot stand it – when people park their cars on the neutral ground.”
Emotionally, but with unremitting composure, Ms. Dent explains further: “It is so profoundly disrespectful. It’s as if people just don’t care – they don’t value what’s here. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, but when you see cars parked up on the neutral ground, it makes it look like we live in a ghetto — like no one is proud to call it home.”
Ms. Dent has proudly called 1314 St. Roch Avenue home since 1989. After stints in neighborhoods ranging from Central City to the Lower Ninth Ward, it was then that Ms. Dent, a licensed, practicing nurse at the time, and her late husband, a New Orleans taxi driver, finally settled into a home which they owned.
“The neighborhood was wonderful when we first moved here. It was almost all families then, and it was almost all homeowners. Only very rarely was there ever a problem with crime,” she says.
Ms. Dent also recalls her excitement at the prospect of moving into a home just three blocks from the St. Roch Market. Her husband had discovered the St. Roch Market years before their move to the neighborhood, and the family quickly adopted a tradition of picking up freshly prepared seafood for a Friday night dinner – “at least twice a month, no matter where we were living,” says Ms. Dent. “The Market was just terrific. It had the best seafood, everything was so fresh and wonderful. I sure live for the day that I can see it back,” she says.
By the time of their move in 1989, all of Ms. Dent’s five children had reached adulthood, though she often wishes she could have raised them in St. Roch; more specifically, the St. Roch she knew when she and her husband first purchased their home.
In the years since her arrival in St. Roch, Ms. Dent feels that she has lost part of her neighborhood to crime. By her observation, the rise in crime around her home began in the mid 1990s, when older homeowners in the neighborhood seemed to be gradually replaced by younger renters.
“You have to be open to change, I know, but some of the young families that started to rent here – not all, but some – the way some of their children would act in the street, it just made you think ‘where are the parents?’”.
Sadly, in Ms. Dent’s view, the crime has intensified to a point where she no longer feels safe in her neighborhood at night. As a telling example, she saw a flyer for a meeting of the recently formed St. Roch Community Council earlier in the month. The meeting was to be held at 6:30pm, just two blocks from Ms. Dent’s home, and part of its agenda was to discuss the recent spring of violent crime in the neighborhood. Ms. Dent decided not to attend—not for lack of interest, but because she was afraid of what might happen to her on the walk to and from the meeting.
“It wasn’t like that at all when we first moved here. I used to take our dog for a walk on the neutral ground almost every evening in the spring and summer. We’d go all the way up to the park and back down, but I wouldn’t do that today,” she says.
“You know what else?” she continues. “I won’t walk my trash bin to the curb at night anymore. If I forget to do it during the day, I have to wait until the next pickup.”
Despite her fear of the neighborhood’s crime, Ms. Dent still is proud to call St. Roch home.
“I still enjoy the neighborhood, I really do. I just wish we could have more family-oriented people in the neighborhood again. So many of these crimes you hear about are done by young teenagers—children, really—and that all starts in the home. Sure, you always want more homeowners, but some of these young renters are great. So long as we have people that respect themselves and respect the neighborhood, St. Roch will make it back. I know it will,” she says.
*Courtesy of Faubourg St. Roch Project