(This post was written by both of us)
We recently attended a potluck with Transition Nashville on developing community in neighborhoods. Mike Hodge of Nashville’s Neighborhood Resource Center gave an interactive program with our group. Mr. Hodge asked each of us to share with the group our answers to some questions about our neighborhoods and relationships conducive to community. We both said we had given up on our neighbors, and find our community in Transition Nashville and other groups of people with whom we share interests.
Cindy: In my thinking, my neighborhood is not the same as my community. Some members of my community live within a few miles of me. I don’t have “friends” on my street. I realized that I have some negative association with every nearby neighbor except the new ones who moved in a year ago whose property adjoins ours along two back property lines. (We can walk a half mile to their house, but have to drive about 5 miles to their house!)
There is the “home-place” next door, where family members visit and occasionally spend hours doing target practice. The same family burns their household garbage, including plastic (we offered to take their plastic garbage to the local trash depot for them – they declined the offer). There are the neighbors whose cigarette smoke drifts over to my house; the neighbor who completely dominates any conversation”; the neighbors who probably called Codes on us several times; the drug dealing neighbors; the neighbors who let loggers rape their land; the neighbors with the (possibly illegal) C&D landfill; the neighbors with the dogs that bark all night; the neighbor with the “insecurity light” that glares in our eyes and destroys our dark night-time skies.
I realized that I need to make positive connections with our neighbors as best I can. That is up to me. We have approached some of them and had positive interactions. There have been a few good conversations over the years. I need to place more emphasis on the positive interactions than the things about the neighbors that annoy me (or worse).
This very moment, I am also dealing with one of our wildlife neighbors, a skunk, who just walked into the basement where I am writing this. Sharing space with a skunk is definitely a challenge to one’s composure! With our home partially torn down, it is hard to keep the cat’s food bowl secure. The skunk, several raccoons and possums, a feral cat, and a neighbor’s loose dog have all helped themselves to our cat’s food. I long for a normal house again, if only to keep the critters out of the cat bowl! I think the cat will be happier when that happens, too.
Enough about cats!
I value “localization.” What occurs in my life (or decisions made out of current circumstances) frequently doesn’t reflect localization. One aspect of localization is how far one travels to be with like-minded others. Having good relationships with people within walking or cycling distance has been an interest for me (gave up on it as a “goal”). It’s an important aspect of preparing for transition to the future we see coming.
When our house burned, we received goodwill, condolences, and practical immediate assistance from folks we didn’t know who live within a few blocks or miles of our place. Much help over the weeks and months (it has been 4 months since the fire at the time of this writing) has come from prior relationships outside our geographical neighborhood – family and friends. Our need for assistance has brought us new friends who are contributing a lot of help over the long haul. Friends bring friends, who become our friends, too. Internet resources such as Facebook and Meetup.com (where we are involved with Transition Nashville and the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council) definitely facilitate community interaction for us.
Here are two things I have learned from our rebuild experience so far: (1) You never know who will show up, or what kind of skills or connections they will have to offer. (2) The goodwill of our community of friends is very precious.
At times, I have worried about accumulating a debt to “my community” and wondered how such a debt could be “discharged”. Today, I experienced one way.
A young man I met through Meetup.com has come to several of our work parties. He knows of my counseling skill and had a friend of his call me for help. Even though I was having a day of feeling low, overwhelmed, and unproductive, I was compelled by my integrity to return this call and offer what assistance I could. Helping her boosted my energy for the rest of the day.
During the presentation I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, l learned several things about developing community in neighborhoods.
1. Neighborhood organizations that are organized to do just one thing dissolve after their goal is accomplished. For instance, “Neighborhood Watch” groups rarely last longer than a a few months.
2. Neighborhood organizations that endure have multiple projects.
3. Joining an existing organization and participating (or influencing it) is easier than creating an organization.
4. There are two personality types whose behavior weakens community. (Here I build on Mr. Hodge’s words) Intolerance is expressed by both of these personality types in two ways. The first personality type is self-centered, unable to respect the opinions or experiences of others, and unable to cooperate. The second personality type is a “do gooder martyr type” who believes he/she is the only one who knows how to do something right.
The kind of people who function well in organizations, and help them thrive, recognize that only some of their needs can be met by the organization, and are willing to compromise and work with others, while maintaining their boundaries.
Inspired by Mr. Hodges’ words, we attended a “Neighborhood Night Out Against Crime” that was held later the same week. For the most part it was dreadful, with a sound system that echoed in the gym where it was held, making it impossible to understand any of the speakers–not that it mattered; the tightly scripted event consisted of congratulatory speeches, with little space for interaction. We left when they served hot dogs, in a community where many people have serious health problems from eating too many processed foods. No nitrites or high fructose soft drinks for us, thank you!
But we did make two good connections. First, we found out about our neighborhood organization, and, second, our Metro Council representative, Lonell Mathews, who remembered us from the Maytown (Maytown was a proposed HUGE project to essentially create a 2nd downtown on flood plain and hill of some of the remaining very good farm land in Davidson country to benefit the already wealthy May family) controversy, when we were on opposing sides, told us about an upcoming meeting to establish a community garden.
This is photo of community garden meeting we attended August 15, having found out about it at the “Night Out Against Crime”. None of these folks live on my street, but I imagine they go to the same Kroger store! I am the one in the long skirt. Martin is behind and to my right. The certificates were little symbols of recognition for members of the group that are getting dirty gardening.
I attended my first neighborhood regular monthly meeting soon after. I was pleased to find that this organization is really does look out for the welfare of the neighborhood, reporting problems to the appropriate branch of metro government. The most common issues seem to be blocked storm drainage, drug houses, abandoned houses, and families in distress. I was impressed by the chairwoman’s pragmatic and outgoing nature and her genuine concern for her community. She gave me a way to contact her and I exchanged phone numbers with another lady I met. Now it is up to me to reach out to them to in pursuit of my value of living near folks I know and whose company I enjoy.
On the way home from the monthly neighborhood association meeting, I went to the yard sale of one of our nearest neighbors – the one with the “insecurity” lights that have lit up our otherwise pleasantly dark country nights. The sale was a moving sale! What? I asked the husband about this move. This unfortunate family is the victim of a gambling addict to whom they had been making house payments to for 11 years. The gambling addict fraudulently put up the house deed against a huge loan, and gambled the loan and the house out from beneath our neighbors in spite of their lease-purchase contract, which the gambler failed to disclose when she illegally took out the loan. Attorneys say there is NOT A THING our neighbors – a late middle-aged couple like us looking forward to retirement in their lovingly lovely fixed up home, can do to keep their home, or get any money back either! AND that is not all, folks. The day after receiving an eviction notice, the wife’s mother died unexpectantly from being overmedicated in a nursing home.
I spent a while visiting with the husband during the yardsale -listening empathetically.
I noticed the wife on the porch the next day.. and spent an hour or so giving her my ears and my heart. Before my eyes, she changed from “the lady who probably called codes on us and yelled at her dog” into a soft, suffering human being as she told me how she and her husband had been sweethearts from the time she was 15 and he was 18, through four decades of being married, divorced and having children with other people, and then remarried.
And that’s how our hearts opened up towards our annoying neighbors.
“Once in a while you can get shown the light/In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
music: The Rolling Stones, “Neighbors” (featuring Sonny Rollins on saxophone!)