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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Rediscovering Community

I have noticed a trend in this country of people trying to regain a sense of community that they remember from growing up. Quite a few books have been written about this over the past few years, most notably Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone.

I imagine most of us over the age of 25 recall growing up in neighborhoods where we knew everybody. Not just that we knew everybody but that there was a sense of trust and community. For instance, I couldn't get into much trouble in my neighborhood because I knew that all the parents would discipline me and tell my parents. That would probably result in lawsuits today.

There are a number of solutions that people are looking towards for a rebirth of community. New Urbanism is one of those. The idea is that if people have porches on the front of the house and have sidewalks, that this will help create a sense of community (this is a ridiculously abridged and narrow definition). While there are many other merits and criticisms of New Urbanism, I tend to disagree that the physical nature of our neighborhoods is the defining factor in building community.

The neighborhood where I grew up in Atlanta was a typical surburban sprawl neighborhood; we had no sidewalks, the houses were well set back from the street, and there were cul-de-sacs galore. Yet we had community. I'll bet I have been in 95% of all 100+ homes in that neighborhood.

So what is it that we are missing now? I am still thinking through this issue, but I think one element is that we have to be willing to open ourselves up to our neighbors and be vulnerable. We have to be willing to have other parents tell our kids to stop misbehaving without going off on them that they "have no right to talk to my kids that way". What in the world is that teaching our children? I'd love to get your thoughts on this.

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