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July 3, 2008

Chapter 4: 'This is our time'

Forget attempting to typecast North Columbia, to pigeonhole it as one thing or the other, although any number of people have tried.

Forget attempting to typecast North Columbia, to pigeonhole it as one thing or the other, although any number of people have tried.

Its sprawling network of neighborhoods can be at once eclectic and charming, solidly working and middle class and frighteningly on the skids.

But there are people who wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Here, within a few miles of the State Capitol, stately old columned homes and arts-and-crafts cottages line neighborhoods that are minutes away from swaths of ramshackle houses with dirt-swept yards. The pall of that poverty is eased just blocks away with a cul-de-sac of new $200,000 homes.

City manager Charles Austin called North Columbia a community “in crisis” in the wake of three slayings this year.

He was referring to the area around the Gable Oaks apartment complex, but the broad brush has brought a new spotlight to the entire area.

The attention — heightened security, neighborhood meetings, more visible police protection — is welcomed.

An upcoming community cleanup is bring new hope and polish to the collection of neighborhoods.

But the negative stereotypes linger.

Over four days, The State has examined the contradictions and complexities that are North Columbia.

Amid those contradictions, the people -- the fiercely loyal, stubbornly optimistic citizens of North Columbia -- stand out.

For all of North Columbia’s woes, there are people and institutions that aren’t about to leave: Henry Hopkins, Alvin Hinkle, Mary Myers, Columbia College, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.

No longer will they accept the city’s crumbs, they say.

To repeat their mantra: This is our time.

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