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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cadwalader Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, really hearkens back to the golden years of Trenton, before the current poverty- and crime-stricken era plagued the city. The designer of Central Park and Prospect Park gave Trenton's 100-acre park rolling hills and curved boulevards. The neighborhoods of Hillcrest, Cadwalader Heights and Hiltonia surround the park, giving residents a real piece of land to play on.

After running around the park and Hiltonia Saturday afternoon, it really seemed like a peaceful place, much removed from the violence that is plaguing the rest of the city as we speak. Just up Stuyvesant Ave., in the neighborhoods north of Route 29, death is reigning over Trenton. Nine people have been murdered in the first three months of 2007, on pace for the deadliest year in Trenton's storied history. The city is on pace for 36 for the year, or a rate of 40 per 100,000.

To put things in perspective, this would be like New York City suffering from 3,200 murders in a single year, something unheard of these days. Yet if a city the size of New York can get its crime problems under control, then surely a city 1/80th the size should be able to, with much less effort and fanfare.

Yet Trenton cannot.

Year after year, the population decreases, as the more affluent and well-off people get out while they can. A city that once had nearly 130,000 residents now has 85,000, and that number is dwindling.

People are fleeing the city's limits, despite wonderful housing stock and historical and cultural advantages.

While people complain of South Trenton and the Italian neighborhood, Chambersburg, changing to a more Latino character, this is simply racial fright typical of a white group losing their majority status.

The real problems lie in the North and West Wards, where poor black men are being murdered one at a time, by other poor black men.

The abject poverty, and concentration of people living in poverty in these two city wards is literally eating its residents alive, and discouraging development and affluence from creeping into the neighborhood.

Six of the seven homicides in March occurred in a two-square mile area in those two wards. Only one other unsolved murder occurred in a basement in Chambersburg.

In the middle of all of this, Trenton sits in Mercer County, bordering with some of the most affluent communities in the state. West Windsor, Princeton, Hopewell etc. sit quietly idle, sending children to high-ranking school districts while their Mercer neighbors in Trenton send children to an Abbott district where only a third of incoming freshman will end up with a high school diploma.

Mayor Doug Palmer and Police Director Santiago have their hands full trying to solve the current spate of murders, which came only a couple months after they jointly announced Trenton's dwindling crime problems. Driving around town cannot hide what's really going on. People are poor, and their neighbors are poor. They see a world of poverty, and that realization drives them into crime and the hands of gangs, who promise an escape from their environment which America cannot.

Bring these people out of poverty, somehow, and the gangs will fall apart. Now all Trenton needs to do is solve poverty. I'm sure other cities would listen if they somehow came up with the magic cure.

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