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One can forgive the residents of Arbor Hill for walking with slightly swelled heads and a bit of a swagger on Wednesday, after the American Planning Association announced that the neighborhood was chosen as one of the 10 great neighborhoods in America for 2014.
“There was nothing but blight, crime, shootings and murder along the Lexington Avenue corridor a few years ago and we’ve turned it around,” said Mark Robinson, 51, a Common Council member who represents Arbor Hill. He has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years and has renovated his own home and helped family members renovate others. He has his own personal story of redemption.
“We’re taking this neighborhood back one block at a time and there’s a good spirit in the air here,” he said. “It’s a labor of love for those of us who’ve lived here a long time.”
“This is quite an honor and it’s finally giving Arbor Hill its due,” said Mary Liz Stewart, co-founder with her husband, Paul, of the Underground Railroad History Project. Their group is restoring the 19th-century brick home of noted abolitionists Stephen and Harriet Myers on Livingston Avenue, a stop along the Underground Railroad.
“This recognition is a thank-you to those people who continued to live in Arbor Hill and hung in there in the tough years and represent the foundation of the community,” she said.
They won’t gloat, but Arbor Hill residents have every right to adopt an I-told-you-so attitude after enduring decades of naysayers and negativity that focused on ongoing problems with poverty and crime rather than a perspective that accentuated the positives of community spirit, new development and a celebration of great potential.
That’s what the APA did with its selection of Arbor Hill, which joins a list of 230 neighborhoods, streets and public spaces chosen since 2007 in its “Great Places in America” designation that highlights “a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement and a vision for tomorrow.”