In reporting on Charleston’s West Side, I became familiar with a very tight knit community. It’s a neighborhood where everyone knows their neighbors, there’s no lack of community support and activism, and there’s a possibility that you might find a local councilman DJ-ing at a community event.
When talking to the people of the West Side and conducting the initial research into the community, there were some shared concerns that kept coming up. Worry for the safety and support of the kids in the neighborhood, housing options and availability and food insecurity were all responses I received. The one that was the most intriguing to me though, was the issue of abandoned buildings. I could not believe that in the state’ capital city of Charleston, there were so many abandoned structures. Each person I talked to kept saying that there could be multiple abandoned homes on any given block in the neighborhood.
In time, when I was able to get to the neighborhood and see it with my own eyes, I found that these accounts were not exaggerated at all. There were blocks with rows of abandoned houses, and it was mind blowing. At the same time, being there on the West Side also made me realize that while there are some dreary looking structures, the neighborhood is very much alive and active. Kids were running around and playing outside of the local school, and people were sitting out on their porches enjoying the day just like anywhere else.
Working on this story was no easy task. Initially, I was researching and reporting while attending classes at West Virginia University in Morgantown, two and a half hours away. Trying to report without being in Charleston was a challenge, as I had to use contact information I found online, which often led to dead ends with no responses. Not having a face-to-face interaction with people often times made them hesitant to talk and really made it difficult to build the trust needed in reporting.
Reporting on location from the West Side allowed me to build relationships with the people there, and to become familiar with a place I had frankly never heard of before this project. I learned that the West Side has its issues, but what community doesn’t? I still am interested in finding out how widespread the food insecurity issue I mentioned is in this relatively small neighborhood. Another question I had was, why hasn’t the City of Charleston even installed simple bits of infrastructure, such as street lights in the highly populated West Side?