Take a stroll around your block (or your subdivision, or your farm). Or drive. What do you see? Whether you’ve chosen to live here — or your environment chose you — your neighborhood is a key piece of who you are. And you are an integral part of shaping its ecosystem. Like when my neighbor spilled white paint on our sidewalk the other day. Yeegads.
Now think about the neighborhood you grew up in. I’d reckon that few of us live there anymore — and even if you do, time has left its mark. They changed a street name, they put in a Starbucks, but, ok, the kid who used to eat glue still lives next door, now with his four kids.
A neighborhood is not just an assemblage of houses, streets and cul de sacs, it’s people and relationships. There are legendary lives that existed before you lived there, and there will be lives after. Your neighborhood is an organic, dynamic thing and, paradoxically, a memory. It is a place fixed in time and space, just for you.
The four-block radius might have been your whole world. Pedaling your Big Wheel down the driveway, waiting under a shady maple for the school bus, picking up something from Miss Lucy next door, grilling hotdogs at the local park, drinking beer on the golf course, picketing with your neighbors so that treatment plant doesn’t infect your water with something green and bubbly.
My current Brooklyn environs are a child’s idea of a neighborhood — Sesame Street, for real realz. Diverse, congested, imperfect and beautiful. Majestic rows of brownstones and locust trees shading cars and careless bags of trash (Oscar the grouch is more likely a very sizeable rat). There’s the lady selling old clothes on her stoop, the same ones she sells every summer (er, that might be me). The coffee shop I go to almost every single day. The Duane Reade which I affectionately dub “my kitchen.”
When you pick through your memories, what do you remember most about your neighborhood? How do you think about it now? Is it simply a house? Is it the intersections of streets and stoplights? Is it a collection of PokéStops? (I am so sorry for you.) Or is it the elderly neighbor who picks flowers from his garden, and occasionally drops a single yellow rose on your doorstep? These are the memories that make writing about neighborhoods ripe for storytelling.
So, this week we head home:
- Susan Ito wonders if she grew up in a suburban paradise, or something very different
- Courtney Colwell goes to the dogs in Jersey
- Bobbi Booker returns to find a changed South Philly
- Annette Earling discovers what happens when your building crumbles
- Barbara Samuels finds that creativity can thrive in the ‘burbs
Plus, 6 Neighborhood Reads
- Phenomenal interactive piece on one block in Bed-Stuy (New York)
- The adorable Leandra Medine interviews her new neighbors (ManRepeller)
- Why well-off black families still live in poorer neighborhoods (New York Times)
- What Makes a Neighborhood Hip? (Vice)
- Theaster Gates on how to revive a neighborhood through art (TED)
And of course, your earworm: