«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
of Tomorrow‖ (Gertrude Poe, 1970). Today, Laurel rarely makes headlines in regional newspapers, except when serious crimes, like murders, are committed there.24 And, in 2009, in the midst of one of the greatest American recessions, evidence suggests that Laurel has not been immune to the weakening economy.25 Contemporary Laurel Though the city of Laurel—located in Prince George‘s County—is only
4.5 square miles, the Greater Laurel area stretches well beyond this center and is divided semantically and perceptually into a number of different areas. In order 24 See ―Md. Man Gets 40 Years for Murder of Pregnant Woman,‖ Washington Post, August 28,
2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/08/28/AR2009082802818.html 25 A look at the community newspapers and the decrease in advertising over the past year makes that readily apparent, as will be discussed in later chapters.
The City of Laurel had 19,960 residents, according to the 2000 Census.
―Greater‖ Laurel (all areas surrounding, but excluding the city with Laurel postal codes, including 20707, 20708, 20723, and 20724) boasted 87,820 residents according to that Census. In total, those considering themselves members of Laurel likely tally nearly 108,000 (though the 2010 Census may show that figure is higher).
Residents living within the city of Laurel elect the mayor and city council.
The mayor is ―the leading elected official of the City […and] is empowered to approve or veto legislation, provide an annual budget for all city services, and have direct supervision of government administration for all citizens and businesses of the City‖ (Office of the Mayor). The mayor‘s term is four years, while the five city council representatives serve two years. Non-partisan elections are held every two years, in March. The city of Laurel is broken into two wards.
Two council representatives are elected from Ward 1, two are elected from Ward 2, and one council representative is elected ―at large.‖ According to Laurel City‘s website, City Council members shall be persons of known integrity, experience and sound judgment, not less than twenty-one (21) years of age, citizens of the United States, shall be registered to vote in city elections and residents of the City for the one year immediately preceding the date of the election.
All elections and respective city positions are non-partisan, meaning no candidates run on a party platform (Kristie Mills, personal interview, 9 June 2009). During the 2008 election, held on September 9, 2008, 11,975 Laurel city residents were registered to vote; 402 voted (Pat Haag, personal email, July 29, 2009). As shown in Table 3, voting in local elections in Laurel has been declining for the past decade.
Those who live within the city pay taxes to the city, which provides them with resources, including police, rescue, and fire squads.
“Parts” of Greater Laurel West Laurel starts at the western boundary of the city, crosses over I-95, and extends to the Patuxent River to the north and to Route 198 to the south. Also located in Prince George‘s County, it is more rural, with mostly single family homes. G. G. Barr—who developed the West Laurel area beginning in the late fifties and early sixties—saw people from ―old Laurel‖ relocating in order to ―upgrade their homes‖ (Chamblin, 1982). A 1977 article from the Laurel Historical Society‘s clip file said that ―residents …often refer to themselves—for simplicity‘s sake—as citizens of Laurel, where they don‘t pay taxes or vote.
Many are hard pressed to say how West Laurel differs from other county bedroom communities‖ (―West Laurel,‖ 1977). Though it depends almost certainly on with whom you talk, many today say West Laurel is a very community-minded, neighborly place. Real estate agent Bob Mamula said in 2003, that ―people let you know they live in West Laurel. They‘re happy about it. They‘re proud of it‖ (Glaros, 2003). I found this to be true of my West Laurel participants.
in Prince George‘s County, South Laurel extends below the city limits as far as Contee Road. This area includes a shopping center, several grocery stories, a few chain restaurants, and a furniture store. In 1983, residents of South Laurel/Montpelier held a meeting to discuss incorporating the area into a separate municipality, but it never did become incorporated. Like many other parts of Laurel, Montpelier celebrates its history. One of the most famous historical sites in the area is the Montpelier Mansion, which was constructed by the Snowden family in 1781. The site was host to many famous guests, including George Washington and Abigail Adams (―History of Laurel, Maryland‖).
To the east are Maryland City and Russett, located in Anne Arundel County. Maryland City was planned and developed in the early 1960s by Harvey Kane (―Maryland City,‖ 2003; Quick, 2003). Driving east along Route 198, a brick sign welcomes visitors into ―Maryland City.‖ Like Montpelier, Maryland City also explored incorporation in the early 1990s in response to a Redskins football stadium proposed to be constructed in the area (Murchison, 1993). But, since its development the area has transformed, according to Raymond Smallwood, Maryland City‘s fire chief and civic association president, ―from a small residential development with about 3,000 residents to a large community with a population of about 20,000‖ (Quick, 2003). Along Route 198, the main stretch through Maryland City and Russett, are shopping centers, including several grocery and retail stores, a Target, Wal-Mart, and Sam‘s Club. In 2001, a redistricting proposal from the Maryland House of Delegates threatened to
arguing that ―relationships with lawmakers, constituent strength and crosscommunity ties 20 years in the making would suffer if the map were approved‖ (Vincent, 2001).
And, finally, to the north, located in Howard County, is North Laurel.
North Laurel is a popular retreat for those wishing to remain in Laurel, but get out of Prince George‘s County. The main reason for doing so, which will be discussed later in this chapter, is the perception (and reality) that Howard County has a better school system. Howard County, like neighboring Montgomery County, which extends west of West Laurel, has higher annual household incomes, on average, than families in Prince George‘s County. Household incomes in Montgomery and Howard counties were $89,284 and $97,837 in 2007 as compared to $68,410 in Prince George‘s county (Prince George‘s County, Maryland). These county divisions create identity issues for residents, which will be discussed later in the chapter.
Divisions in Laurel Not only because Laurel is broken up into sections, but also because it is divided by three counties, my participants had varied responses when asked to describe Laurel as if they were telling a stranger about the place. Some called Laurel a town; others, a suburb or municipality. How my participants used and understood these terms provided some insight into how they assess the quality of life (or work, in some cases) they experience in Laurel.
to it—Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Christine Folks, 52, columnist for the Laurel Leader and resident of West Laurel, called West Laurel ―very suburbia.‖ Folks said that when she first moved to West Laurel thirty years earlier, it was almost rural—very different than hustling and bustling Washington D.C. and Baltimore. In addition, West Laurel‘s active civic association has fought townhouse and apartment development and maintained its single-family home make-up.
But, Hannah, 40, a resident of Russett, disagreed that Laurel is suburban, not because of culture but on the basis of physical location. ―We‘re not really a suburb, because if you watch the news, we‘re never mentioned in the D.C. news and we‘re not mentioned in the Baltimore news. We‘re literally half way between both,‖ she said.
Either way, several participants acknowledged that Laurel has become somewhat of a ―bedroom community‖ for both of these major cities. Craig Moe, 49, mayor of the city of Laurel, said that Laurel has experienced an increase of people with jobs in the big cities moving into Laurel: ―We‘re seeing a lot more people push out from Baltimore and Washington that want to live in the area and then commute back and forth that they‘re getting on the rail.‖ Though he did not cite the following statistics, conversations with other participants suggested that possible reasons for the population influx include housing prices and crime rates.
As of July 12, 2010, the median price for homes for sale in Laurel was $249,900 (Laurel, MD Real Estate Market Snapshot). Though Baltimore was less at
Washington, D.C. was significantly higher, at $369,000 (Washington, DC Real Estate Market Snapshot).
Crime rates also vary significantly. In 2009, Laurel had only one homicide, 74 counts of robbery and 171 counts of theft. Adult arrests totaled 1,041 for the year (Statistics). Washington, D.C. had 78 homicides in 2009, and made 1,017 adult arrests in the week of July 2, 2010 alone (District Crime at a Glance). Likewise, in Baltimore, 16 homicides were reported in the first three months of 2010, and in that same span, a total of 782 violent crimes were reported (Monthly Crime Summary). By comparison of these statistics, Laurel appears a much safer place to live than Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In fact, my primary motivation for moving to Laurel was a greater sense of safety and security. Previously, I had been living in Adelphi, Maryland, located just a few miles from the University of Maryland, and only nine miles north of the District.
David Driver, 47, sports reporter for the Laurel Leader, said that while he does consider Laurel to be a suburb of these two big cities, it is different than most other suburbs in that it has rich history: ―It is a suburb, but at the same time, it has history to it. It‘s, of course, more than 100 years old, where a lot of suburban towns, you know, are twenty or thirty years old.‖ An old town feel Many residents compared Laurel to Columbia—a planned community that began in the 1960s and is located in Howard County—describing Laurel as having more of that old, small town feel that is a result of its 1870 incorporation.
town, having trouble finding the correct word. Then he said, My first word was hodgepodge, but my next word is eclectic. I mean, it‘s sort of, [different] styles and types of properties and things and they‘re
Brian, 21, resident of Old Town Laurel, articulated more precisely what Nate
A lot of the new communities now, they‘re all the same communities.
You‘ve got, you know, the houses look alike. Everybody‘s got the same amount of land, the same backyard. The front of the houses, there‘s like three different styles and you got three then it starts over and you have three again. That‘s one of the things I like about Laurel. […] Every house is different and, I think that kind of gives Laurel its own […] kind of image and with it being in an historic district, […] a lot of the house have
Julie, 22, agreed, suggesting that planned towns like Columbia are ―very synthetic and like a prepackaged city‖ and similar to the ―prefab houses‖ that roll down the highway, just waiting to be plunked onto an empty piece of land.
Jan Robison, 59, a resident of the city of Laurel and a member of Laurel City Council for seven years, called Laurel a ―big little town.‖ She explained why
this was a positive assessment of Laurel:
It has some qualities of being a big town but it still has qualities of the small town feel, too. Because from here, you can get to so many places, to
Divisions create confusion Officially, the city of Laurel is dubbed a municipality because of its incorporation. Residents living within the city limits pay taxes to the municipality and have their own representation. They also enjoy other perks, like discounted swimming at the pool on Main Street, as well as Laurel city police and fire protection. Because of this, many of my participants who live within the city said they readily identify with the city as a distinct part of Laurel.
Those living outside the city limits are often confused and even frustrated.
Schooling is divided by county, so students living in Prince George‘s county Laurel attend different schools than students living in Anne Arundel or Howard County Laurel. Likewise, residents outside of the city limits rely on their respective county for government and representation, law enforcement and fire protection.
Brian explained how feelings of confusion manifested at the local pool where he worked many summers.
At the pool and at all the community buildings, the city buildings, you get a resident rate so having to explain that to everybody that comes by and says, ‗I live in Laurel,‘ and I say, ‗What street do you live on?‘ and they give me the street and I look it up in Laurel‘s street book of every street that‘s in the city of Laurel and their street‘s not in there. I‘m like, ‗You
angry. ‗I live in Laurel,‘ but you don‘t live in the city of Laurel.
Others expressed examples of confusion or frustration about living in a place that spans four counties. Rick Wilson, 51, a resident of the Old Town
section of the city of Laurel and also a local blogger, recalled: