I will always be grateful for the fact that I was able to spend part of my childhood in a small town and the other years growing up in the city. I am astonished when I remember how my life was so radically different then than it would be today in either location. In both cases, I lived in neighborhoods where everyone knew everyone else, where kids played in the streets or vacant lots together, where grownups sat on each others' porches in the summer and the milkman left milk on everybody's doorstep.
For years, people have been sharing the legend that neighborly friendliness only happens in small towns. People who grew up in cities several decades or so ago know that's not true. Most of us have great memories of growing up in our city neighborhoods. There were very few differences between the ways the neighbors in both locations behaved then and there aren't many difference between the ways some of them behave now.
People moving into many small towns trying to find the close-knit neighborhood of bygone days will probably be disappointed.
What's different? Circumstances have changed, people have changed and minds have changed. Let's talk first about the way circumstances have changed. First of all there is no longer a grocery store on the corner. There are few places where goods and services are available where you can walk to with your best friend or send your kid to shop on her bicycle. If people want goods and services they have to drive the car to get them and most of them don't shop for the neighborhood. So for one block that means at least 10 to 15 unshared automobiles on the road to pick up each family's items. The grocery store, the drug store, the clothing store and all the other stores are usually miles away in a shopping center. In addition to that, in some areas development and construction are proceeding relentlessly, eating up all the green spaces.
People have changed. They once worked in plants and offices where everyone stopped at twelve o'clock for lunch, which they ate in association with their co-workers in cafeterias or out of their lunch buckets while they chatted or played cards with each other. Now a lot of people work in the same buildings in separate cubicles and have lunch at different times. They sometimes go out for lunch alone or on business or run other errands. Some are either working, going to doctor or dental appointments, going to the gym, visiting teachers, carting kids around to after school activities, taking care of elderly parents or a thousand other things that keep them too busy or too stressed out to spend time being neighborly.
Minds changed. The old neighborhoods that had been good enough for two or three earlier generations of a family, suddenly the houses weren't nice enough or big enough or the kind of new people that were moving in weren't like them, so it was time to move on. So, the new neighborhood is full of new people from all kinds of neighborhoods and nobody has time to make new friends or visit old friends. The old neighborhoods and the new neighborhoods are fragmented by strangers living in isolation.
Neighborhoods have fallen apart in a lot of places. People have lost the sense of security that came with knowing the people next door as someone you call if you needed help. Somehow, there's been a disconnect from the central thought that whatever happens in this place, we are all in it together.
No, let's face it, most of us feel that we're in it by ourselves. When someone occasionally reaches out and offers us a helping hand, we're alarmed and suspicious. Even though in our guts we know we can't handle everything by ourselves, we feel obligated to pretend that we can.
Communities are made up of neighborhoods. When our neighborhoods are broken our communities get sick. And I think one of the challenges of the Twenty-First Century is going to be how to heal our communities. As forward-thinkers keep reminding us if we cannot heal our own broken communities, how can we possibly attempt to unify and build alliances with foreigners around the world?
Those who are working hard to keep us divided in this country are playing a dangerous game. Ultimately, our survival as a nation may well depend upon the strength of our unity. How many for Russian roulette?
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.