«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
why hasn‘t [the development that has taken place in Rockville and Annapolis] happened to [Laurel]? Like, you see Main Street … eventually that could become really nice restaurants and more upscale than it is now, I would hope, and then people would understand that, you know, it has a River Walk. There‘s just two bars there, and that‘s it. That‘s all you can do. It needs to have more fine restaurants and just things to get people out and about, walking around, instead of strip malls. If you went to another town, say Old Town Alexandria, one street, everyone‘s along that one street going to the restaurants. If you go to Fredericksburg, there‘s one street that everyone goes to. Here, it‘s Route 1. But you have a Main Street; it just hasn‘t got that feel of community.
Craving better retail Though housing projects are expanding in Laurel, retail is in peril. The Laurel Mall, which opened in 1979, is all but closed, though the city has been talking about revitalizing it for some time. Formerly anchored by Hecht‘s, JC Penney and Montgomery Ward, now Burlington Coat Factory is the only anchor store that remains (Crown America to manage Maryland Regional Mall). A Google search of the Laurel Mall yielded a link to deadmalls.com, a not for profit website dedicated to promoting ―the history of the malls as well as their nature, whether thriving or declining, and the impact of time and competition on these establishments‖ (Welcome to Retail History). The page dedicated to the Laurel Mall features two user-submitted comments which paint a picture of the state of
shopping the mall at holiday time:
The mall was as eerie and dead as I had feared it would be. At least eighty-five percent of the inline stores were vacant, their glass store fronts covered over with black plastic. Other than a GNC, Lady Foot Locker, and another sports apparel store, most of the stores were selling items which one would find at flea markets, or perhaps on a peddler‘s cart near a Washington, D.C. tourist attraction. Redskins hats, black velvet Bob Marley prints, anyone? (Patton, 2009).
On March 29, 2006, Arthur C. Adams wrote:
The problems would seem to be that Laurel Mall could never compete with the nearby much higher end Columbia Mall, or the much larger, lowend Arundel Mills mega-mall. Further, it does not seem to be a safe place to shop. The aforementioned airbrushed t-shirt shop that caters to "gangstas" certainly doesn't feel welcoming to most people. There's stories of at least one shooting, reputedly a drug deal gone bad, at the mall in areas not open to the public. Friends have told me I'm nuts for going there even in the daytime (Adams, 2006).
Carol, 75, retiree and resident of West Laurel, also seemed to link declining patronage at the mall to the increasing population of African Americans.
―The stores changed to really providing things that black people would want to buy,‖ she said. Brian, 21, police officer and resident of Old Town Laurel and Gina, 20, a college student who now lives in neighboring Columbia but grew up
added a skate park:
Gina: And the mall, it‘s just trashy, I mean, now a skate park?
Brian: I actually went there the other day to actually to look at the skate
walked in one of the doors and walked around the whole mall before I finally found it. And there was probably five or six stores that were open.
It‘s horrible. The food court had like 20 places in it, the food court [now], there‘s maybe two that were open. And I mean the skate park is a skate park but it‘s small, very small.
Gina: It‘s a good idea but I don‘t think it‘s going to do anything.
Brian: The city has a lot of plans. They‘ve got loads and loads of plans for the mall and they‘ve got plans for everything. […] They‘ve got big plans but they just really don‘t know how to start with them or can‘t make them
The fact that the Mall and Main Street are struggling is no secret in Laurel.
Melissa, 25, new resident in Laurel, said that one of the first things she tells people when they ask her what Laurel is like is that Laurel has ―a Main Street that is struggling.‖ Pastor Segundo Mir, a native of Cuba and 20-year resident of Laurel, cited
store closings in Laurel as a sign of backward progress:
I see a place out of business, I feel bad because this is not progress. [I] mean, this is not progress, no future. It‘s failing, people are failing.
But, the heart of the issue relating to the Laurel Mall seems two-fold. The fact that the Mall is failing means that it is not meeting the needs of the local residents, who must leave Laurel in order to shop. But, perhaps more importantly, many residents pointed to the fact that a lack of a prosperous mall in Laurel diminishes the available gathering spaces for people in Laurel to interact;
lack of opportunity for interaction diminishes the possibility for community.
Especially in a community as diverse as Laurel, interaction is important for community to exist. The growth of Laurel‘s population, in many participants‘ opinions, has also affected the area. Some welcome the diversity and find it has had a positive effect on Laurel. The next section will address, in more detail, issues of diversity in Laurel, and how homogeneity and heterogeneity contribute to community in Laurel.
Diversity in Laurel The issue of diversity in communities is also a complicated one. A community whose members have too much in common will not be able to sustain themselves because they will have nothing to share with one another. But community members must also have commonalities, or some homogeneity, which creates reasons to come together. Warren (1986) said that it has simply been accepted [by community planners] as a value that it is better for people to live in communities which are more or less a cross
ethnically segregated communities (p. 31).
Yet, he acknowledged that in reality, the desire for both heterogeneity and homogeneity is often wrought with contradiction. He provided the following
Note … the gradual breakdown in the constitutionality of ordinances or covenants that excluded poor people by acreage zoning and exclude blacks and other minorities by collusion or covenant. At the same time, note the rise of separatism on the part of Black and Chicano minorities as well as the more longstanding separatism practiced by whites in the form of
The tension between these two—heterogeneity and homogeneity—is present in most communities, though especially in Laurel, which has become increasingly diverse.
The median age of Laurel residents is approximately 33 years old. There are 3,242 more females than males in Laurel. The average household size is 2.5 persons. The owner/renter status in Laurel is nearly split; 23,847 housing units in Laurel are owner-occupied as compared to 19,756 renter-occupied housing units (see Table 6). Of the total population, 81,603 people identified themselves as being a part of a family living in Laurel (2000 Census).33 33 Several of these figures were determined by my own calculations, averaging the five categories (Laurel city, 20707, 20708, 20723, and 20724).
Many of my participants, who live and work amid this diversity every day in Laurel, noticed changes over time. Mike McLaughlin, Old Town resident and
Laurel Leader columnist, compared Laurel of the 1960s to Laurel in 2010:
Back in the 60‘s, that‘s when I was living in Laurel [for the first time], and it‘s really become a lot more cosmopolitan. I don‘t know if cosmopolitan is the right word, but it‘s definitely got more international. Geez, I mean, the kids on my son‘s tennis team, people we play tennis with … even recreationally, the folks we play are from all over the world, you know?
Whereas, back in the 60‘s, Laurel was really small, really a small town. In fact, that‘s probably happening in a lot of small towns around the country.
I don‘t think that Laurel is unique that way.
Gwendolyn Glenn, reporter for the Laurel Leader, has noticed the changes, too.
―Culturally it‘s becoming even more diverse, and it‘s, the people of Laurel are from all over now, you know? It‘s not just the, the people who grew up here and have been here all their lives,‖ said Gwendolyn Glenn.
Age: A town of old-timers?
Several participants acknowledged that a large portion of the population in Laurel is elderly, or ―old timers‖ as many participants referred to them. Two of my youngest participants, Gina, 20, and Julie, 22, described people who live in Laurel as being
Gina said that, for the most part, ―people that live in Laurel have this, [they] stay in Laurel, [with] a few exceptions.‖ Brian, 21, agreed, when he said ―heck, we love old timers‖ and recounted a story from his youth about taking cookies to his elderly neighbor, who would tell him stories about the way Laurel used to be when she was a child.
Gina and Julie‘s use of the word ―parochial‖ and later ―provincial‖—both of which connote narrow-mindedness or local interest or focus—suggests that many of the long-time residents are resistant to change. The word parochial also means ―of or relating to a church parish,‖ according to Merriam-Webster (Parochial). But, this population of old timers—those who were born and who remained in Laurel—seem concentrated in Old Town, according to participants.
And, perhaps for this reason, especially in Old Town, the Catholic churches have strong followings. Theresa said that while the general population is very diverse, Laurel ‗has a very strong Roman Catholic population.‘ Joan agreed, but added that four parties hold all of the influence in Laurel.
―In [Old Town] Laurel, there are four parties: the republicans, the democrats, the churches, and the firehouse,‖ she said. At least in Old Town, deep rooted, strong influences still exist, according to several participants.
Nate, 64, also talked nostalgically about the Laurel of the past and how it
has changed over time:
it‘s, you know, it‘s not like that anymore. It‘s grown and some of the personality … got lost, I guess, in the town. But, it‘s still there if you stroll down Main Street. You run into people that have been on Main Street a long time, but the stores have changed and things, you know?
They‘re not quite the same as they used to be in days gone by.
For others, the change is not just unfortunate, it is downright negative.
Race and ethnicity Doug and his wife Carol have not only serious concerns about the changing population, but also fears.
Carol: Well, I really think the schools are better in Howard County and Columbia has that nice mall, I mean, we never go to this mall in here.
Doug: You know you hate to say that the uh, the makeup of Laurel, the change of the people is what caused it, but I don‘t think there‘s much you
Carol: And before we stopped going, we would never go after the kids were out of school, that mall was just filled with kids and you never knew
Doug: You know, people moving here from Baltimore, and you have people moving here from Washington and the area in close to Washington and uh, I think that‘s affected Laurel very negatively… with their
Although they did not come out directly and say it in this passage, Doug and Carol were talking about African Americans. Several of my participants—mainly those who were over the age of 70 and were Caucasian—felt as though African Americans have made a negative impact upon Laurel. Prince George‘s County has transformed in the past three decades from being predominantly white to predominantly black (Cashin, 2004, p. 133). However, there has always been a significant population of African Americans in Laurel, as evidenced by the fact that an entire section of the city is known as ―The Grove‖ and is historically African American. This suggests that their feelings are more of a long-held prejudice or discomfort rather than the result of a rapid change in the population.
But, in other important ways, especially the influx of Hispanics in Laurel in the past twenty years, Laurel has grown and changed in some significant ways.
Demographically, Laurel is fairly diverse. Table 7 below details the racial make-up of Laurel city and greater Laurel. Nearly half of the population identifies as white; black or African-American is the second most represented race in Laurel, followed by Asian (Detailed Table). Also growing is the Hispanic population, according to Segundo Mir, a Hispanic pastor at the Laurel First Baptist Church who counsels Hispanics in Laurel. Mir estimated that thousands of Hispanics live in Laurel, although they are not represented in the Census, many because many are living illegally in the United States. According to the Census language, ―respondents providing write-in entries such as multiracial, mixed,
Cuban)‖ are included in the ―Some other race" category. As shown in the chart below, those identifying as ―other‖ in the 2000 Census make up just more than four percent of Laurel‘s population—a number that is likely considerably lower in figures than in reality.
Race and ethnicity have been, and continue to be, it seems, sources of tension in Laurel. Lara recounted what it was like for her moving from Detroit,
Michigan to Laurel in the early 1960s, just after she was married: