If you follow me or my wife Michelle on Facebook, you know by now that we have traded the Old Northeast in St. Petersburg for the Bayou Club in Seminole, or as former Mayor Rick Baker describes it, “Greater St. Petersburg.”
This was no easy decision. Not for the boy who was born and raised in northeast St. Pete. Not for the man and wife who dated, were engaged and eventually married in downtown. Not for the blogger who named this site after his hometown and described it as “Life and Politics from the Sunshine State’s Best City.”
No, this was no easy decision at all. It has been, arguably, two of the most difficult months of Michelle’s and my time together as we debated the pros and cons of remaining in Old Northeast. The pros were numerous, from the proximity to the bustling downtown and vibrant waterfront to the sheer fun we’ve enjoyed being part of the neighborhood’s Halloween and holiday light displays. It’s been so nice to swim nearly every day at the Vinoy pool and then pick up dinner at the club’s restaurant. Even filling up the gas tank at the Fourth Street Rally has been enjoyable.
We loved our home … our sidewalks and streets … our place in the world. However, at the end of the day, we did not feel safe. At least not as safe as we should have given the value of the homes in the neighborhood.
And so for that reason — but not for that reason alone — we’ve moved from St. Petersburg. Just as the Starks left Winterfell, so too have the Schorsches left Winterrock.
This is not the usual we’re-just-scared-white-people-no-longer-willing-to-live-near-downtown. It’s really not that bad. But I am husband and a father and I have to do what’s best for my family.
During the short time we have lived in the Old Northeast, one car was stolen (although later recovered) and another car was twice burglarized. An expensive bike was also stolen from the garage (which is behind a gate).
There was also a frightening experience during which Michelle was accosted by a panhandler while placing Ella Joyce in her car seat. In fact, door-to-door panhandling in the Old NE seems to have become something of a thing as we did not go more than a few days without opening the door to someone with their hand out.
I understand this sort of thing is part of what living in a city is all about. I know that better than most, having lived in New York City and Washington, D.C. But in those cities, there is a trade-off. Suffering through the occasional mugging is part of the excitement of living in modern day Rome.
But there’s no such compact in Saint Petersburg. And dealing with a consistent level of low-grade criminal activity is too high a price to pay for living in such a high-priced neighborhood.
What may have been the most depressing aspect of this situation was the St. Petersburg Police Department’s response. Or should I say, lack of a response?
Despite a dramatic increase in auto thefts, especially in the nicer neighborhoods of St. Pete, the police department treated the theft and burglary of our vehicles as ho-hum, everyday occurrences. The dispatcher laughed when I reported the incident about the panhandler scaring my wife.
Had we remained in the Old NE, the next time I would have seen a police cruiser would have been the first. Actually, the only time I saw police cruisers in the neighborhood was when a pack of them flew down the side streets in hot pursuit of Austin Goodner, the young man who shot someone two blocks from our home and later shot at a police officer.
It was that incident that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sure, it was a random event unlikely to be duplicated, but I am not so sure.
For almost my entire career, I’ve been reading the moods of the City of St. Petersburg and its residents. It is a special city, one whose geography — a peninsula on a peninsula — which will eventually lead it to greatness.
But there are some pains that go along with growth. The city is busier, faster, louder than it was just a decade ago.
I’m not so sure the city’s leaders are adapting to the changes. While I support many of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s progressive policies, I do not think he has a firm grip yet on the quality of life issues. Just look at how he’s allowed the homeless to return to Williams Park as evidence of that.
Robert Frost said that fences make good neighbors. Well so do gates. And that’s why this post is being written from behind the gates of the Bayou Club. Our home is at the end of a cul-de-sac and on the water. On the other two sides, it is bracketed by a small creek, or a moat, if you will.
It’s safer here.