What do we write about when we write about neighborhoods?
“Only connect!” — E. M. Forster, Howard’s End
Fun sites devoted to cities and urbanism abound on the Web. (Why can’t my city have bike sharing like Copenhagen?) And then there’s all that decorator porn that enflames you with images of what your home or apartment could look like. The city and the house get a lot of attention, but how about that thing in between: the neighborhood, that original social network? What about discussing the pleasures and pains of living on a street with others? What about sharing actual things you can do to promote and sustain creative communities?
Welcome to the start of NEIGHBORISTA! Our exclamation point is in honor of British novelist’s E. M. Forster’s well-known maxim, “Only connect!” What better place to connect our cities to our dwellings than the streets where we live, work, and play? We believe that by exclaiming that affinity and identity with our communities we can help make them better places, whether they’re in Rome or Rochester.
We focus on how to create and sustain great neighborhoods: projects and ideas to share resources and ideas, build community, answer needs. It’s all the stuff we picked up on Sesame Street, as Julia Ridley Smith observes in her essay — things many of us have begun doing naturally, almost unconsciously. We try to support local businesses. We walk or bike wherever we can. We try to get to know folks who live around us. We work to make our neighborhoods safe places for our kids to play. (Maybe that PBS did penetrate our brains.)
Or we want to do all those things but don’t quite know how to get started.
We can start by looking at ways we communicate within our communities (Communicate — community. It doesn’t take a linguist to see that connection.) Check out Lucy Newsom and her friends who are keeping print journalism alive with the kid-run Lindley Park Gazette. At the same time, there’s the listserv, a mainstay of neighborhood organization for the last decade, which, as Elizabeth Sappenfield demonstrates, can give rein to a sometimes painfully wide range of opinions.
NEIGHBORISTA! is also about what our neighborhoods mean to us and the often awkward processes by which those meanings accrue. Sometimes, as Laura Smyth writes about finding her way in Madrid, we quickly become nostalgic for the “old” neighborhood, even when we’ve just moved there. Or, as Elizabeth Read observes, it may take a long time to look beyond familiar territory and discover what’s really unique about the place you live.
So what’s the talk on your block? We want to know what your neighbors are talking about across the fence or on the stoop or in the park. What expresses your neighborhood’s identity: a desire for bike sharing? strengthening the local school? a great new restaurant? a great old bar?
(photo E. Sappenfield)