When Maria Gomez was younger and living in the Quebec Terrace Apartments in Silver Spring, she wasn’t allowed outside after dark.
The area had a high crime rate, and the now-15-year-old sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School said she and her neighbors were scared.
“There would be fights in the parking lot or on the sidewalk,” she said. “When I lived at [Quebec Terrace], there were people standing around that we didn’t know.”
The complex is at Carroll Avenue and Piney Branch Road. It is technically in the Long Branch area of Silver Spring but is not encompassed by the Long Branch Sector Plan, which stops just before the development, said Jan Goldstein, the founder and executive director of Arts on the Block.
To fight crime, the community developed its own master plan that consisted of discussions, two mosaics, the establishment of green space and better lighting, Goldstein said. Arts on the Block, a Wheaton-based nonprofit organization, works with youths who are passionate about art and gives them a space to learn about the creative process and how the arts can influence their community.
The organization appealed to Montgomery County and was funded $200,000 between the county executive in December and a state bond bill in May to accomplish its goals Goldstein said.
Two outdoor staircases were adorned with blue, yellow and orange tiles to make mosaic art and beautify the neighborhood. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County) of the 5th District attended a dedication ceremony June 29, 2011.
The next step, Goldstein said, will be installing lights in a few areas, including the top of one set of stairs, in the stairwells and outside the community center, a short walk away.
Because of darkness at the top of the stairs and strong lighting in the parking lot, the area functions like a “duck blind,” where people in the lot have been preyed upon by gang members, Goldstein said. Even during the day, residents tend to use the other set of stairs to avoid people who loiter in the shadows.
Now that the community has a colorful patterned mosaic on each of the stairs, Goldstein said they have the chance to brand the community with mosaics that could serve as house numbers in the neighborhood. This summer, through the organization’s Common Ground program — which will provide arts programming to young people — students will create mosaic house numbers that will be offered to nearby property owners, she said. This program is designed to help children take pride in where they live.
Maria, who has become interested in ceramics, serves as a mentor to kids in the area through the community center. She lives in an apartment above the center.
“I would feel proud if that were there because . . . it’s going to make a statement,” she said of the proposed mosaic house numbers. “Problems still happen, but not as much with the changes.”
Maria said there was some vandalism at first, but the mosaic was cleaned and security cameras were installed. Now, she said, people are proud of it and have started to respect it. The stairway project took nearly a year and $60,000 in grants and donations to complete, the Gazette previously reported.
The design team for the project — an adult resident, a member of Common Ground, an architect, a property owner and someone from the nearby YMCA — enlisted the help of a New York artist named Linnaea Tillett, who has done lighting projects in the past because she believes it can prevent crime. She will work on illuminating the mosaic stairs, Goldstein said, and helping to better light the house numbers.
Although Arts on the Block is a youth arts community organization, Goldstein said the organization is not typically focused on community development. However, she said, the group sees an “incredible opportunity” for the youths.
“One of our goals is to [help] our young artists to understand how creative people can affect the life of a community, and this is the living example,” Goldstein said.
More than 35 residents attended a recent Common Ground meeting to discuss the new lighting and green space projects, which Goldstein said was well received by the community. Attendees ranged from seniors to children as young as 11. Regardless of age, Goldstein said, everyone present wanted safety, light, peace, beauty and a gathering space.
Goldstein said she hopes the lighting phase for the project will be completed by July 1, 2014.