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As Va. Area Evolves, Views Diverge

She moved to Irongate in 1988 because, she said, it was a family-oriented place where neighbors tended to be involved. It was racially diverse then, too, mostly black and white.

Neighbors gathered at the pool, and they held block parties. When such problems as drugs and prostitution intruded, people got together and formed orange-vested patrols.

Dorka Calderon says she and neighbors have cleaned yards together, and she is comfortable walking, though she does so cautiously. Some problems might stem from cultural differences, she says. (PMichael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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When Banegas looks around now, though, it is her perception that people don't care as much as they used to and that residents are less involved. Homeowners' association meetings, she noted, are usually attended only by the association officers.

One night last summer, Jose Escobar, 22, was killed a few doors down, and Court C became all screaming sirens and yellow tape, which only confirmed her observations. Banegas holds her purse closer now, and she gets her key out before heading for the front door.

"I don't want to give the impression that our neighborhood has gone down because of Hispanics," she said. "But now, you can't speak to your neighbors because they don't understand you. I don't speak Spanish . . . and everybody is so busy."

She struggles to understand what is going on, why people blare music or sit on her fence.

"We should be respectful of one another," she said, "and I'm afraid that's where we're losing ground."

On a Wednesday afternoon in Irongate, though, it was difficult to draw many conclusions. Lawns were tidy, except for a soda can here or there. Some shopping carts were left around, a sign of the ingenuity of people who don't drive or perhaps carelessness.

Daffodils were blooming, and some yards had bald spots. People had hung Easter bunnies and new ceramic numbers on doors that could use some paint. Gang symbols were spray-painted on a shiny slide and a worn wooden fence, long stretches of which were clean.

It was a Rorschach test, in other words, a place where people could interpret what they see individually.

About 3 p.m., school let out, releasing a flood of children onto the sidewalk. Eva Marun, 30, met her daughter Daisha, 7, for the walk home.

"Everything is definitely calmer and safer than New York," she said, explaining that she had recently moved into a townhouse, which she rents for $1,300 a month. "People here seem nice, but basically I keep to myself."

Calderon, whose bike was stolen recently, said things actually are much better on her court these days.

It was sunny out, and she sat on her steps with her front door wide open. She and her neighbors have gotten together to clean up yards, she said, and she feels comfortable walking around, though she does so cautiously.

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