Chapter 1: Hope

jwilkinson@thestate.comJuly 3, 2008 

When three murders occurred in as many months at Gable Oaks apartments in North Columbia earlier this year, residents and city officials took action.

They called the media, leaned on politicians and pressured owners to ramp up security.

We want to be safe, they said.

The murders focused the city’s attention on the sprawling area of 40 neighborhoods called North Columbia. City manager Charles Austin even called the area a “community in crisis” and said “things must change.”

Which is what North Columbians had been saying all along.

Over the next four days, The State newspaper will take an in-depth look at the area’s problems and promise.

North Columbia has tremendous potential to flourish and grow. Its dedicated leaders and volunteers never stop pushing the city and each other.

Its institutions and beautiful old neighborhoods are assets few areas can top.

The area is on the verge of growth and gentrification. But before that change can take hold, the boarded-up houses, poor-performing schools and clusters of crime have to be fixed.

The shootings at Gable Oaks were the flashpoint. The complex became a microcosm of what can be accomplished if police, residents, landlords and government officials have the will.

Because of the arm-twisting, the complex’s owners hired private security guards and, with the help of city police and county deputies, temporarily ran the bad guys off.

Then, the bank that owned the complex sold it, and the security disappeared.

The residents once again are in jeopardy. And the episode has deepened the belief that parts of North Columbia are a crime-ridden wasteland and nobody cares.

Now, Mayor Bob Coble wants to require owners of large apartment complexes to develop security plans and take measures to protect residents — a mandate that could set a national precedent.

“If you can solve the crime problems in these big complexes, you can go a long way to solving the crime problems in all of Columbia,” he said.

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