Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Losing community

Bridge Studio: Jason Schmidt
via NY Times

Another good neighbor friend called me today to break the news that he's moving his family to Irvine. Their only child, a boy exactly Oliver's age, is one of several boys in our neighborhood whose families are either moving up and out into much bigger houses and fancier 'hoods or the opposite: simpler lives in smaller areas. This boy and the other boy live across the street and around the corner, and for the ten years we've lived in this house, our neighborhood has resembled Maybery of Andy Griffith more than a couple of residential streets in an enormous city.

I cried in the car in the parking lot of Trader Joe's when he told me. I cried because it means my boys won't have easy access to neighbors' houses -- the banging of doors as they come in and out -- the tribes on the trampolines and the wars in the front yards. Sure, new people will move in, but relationships take years, and most of these homes are small, starter ones -- I'd anticipate young couples with babies and toddlers moving in, not tweens and teen-agers. The trouble with living in this city -- for us -- is that we are not particularly upwardly mobile and most of the people around us are. People don't blink an eye at spending millions of dollars on homes and hundreds of thousands on private schools. They have the means to sequester themselves behind boxwood walls with pools and media rooms, and settle on sending their children to schools that are in distant neighborhoods. I'd venture to say that they don't live in neighborhoods but in beautiful houses on beautiful streets.

If they don't have the means, they have the sense to move out and beyond to where their lives could be simpler, easier on the foot, the planet and the pocket. I wish they wouldn't, but I understand their choices.

I'm wondering about all of this, feeling sad and not a little trapped. Even if I could afford it, I don't want a bigger house or a fancier neighborhood. I love my house and I love my neighborhood. I don't want my children to go to exclusive private schools in far-away neighborhoods and be surrounded by those who only know huge privilege.

 But I don't want to be left behind, either.

(I loved the photo above from this wonderful article.)


  1. I don't know if they have them in your area, but in my region the hot new thing is to build a walking, shopping, and business community. I think people are craving just what you fear you're losing.

    Here's a link to what I'm speaking of: http://biltmorepark.com/

    It's kind of white bread and hokum...but I can relate to what it's aspiring to be.

    We always moved around - always! I struggle with finding somewhere that feels like home. I think if I found it I'd be very sad to see people go.

  2. I guess I was one of those who "left the old neighborhood" before we moved to our current town. I loved my neighbors (I've written about that time of bliss in a post before), I can't say the town was staying the same as when we first moved there years before. Most all the kids did go to the Catholic elementary school in town. The public middle and high school were going down like the Titanic...fast. My kids were in grade school and i was worrying. And that is why we moved, because of the schools. Oh and I couldn't shop "in town" because I didn't feel safe. Lots' of muggings in the parking lot at the grocery store.

    Oh but leaving the home my last daughter was born in, all the great kids...it was what we called "the Ozzie and Harriet neighborhood...it was hard. Telling all the great girlfriends at one of our gatherings for coffee and talk time, was hard. Crying was involved. I've never had a neighborhood like that before or again. All our kids played together regardless of age or sex.

    Do I wish we hadn't moved? No. After we moved one by one the rest left town too...Only a few who could continue the Catholic High Education, which did involve driving 30 or more minutes, stayed.

  3. It is hard. We live in a very small community on Long Island, the kind where kids do exactly as your boys have done, wander in and out of neighbors' homes and yards and build lasting friendships with peers. That said, we happen to live on a street where my son has no same-age peers and so while we have the small town feel and camaraderie, we on this particular street, don't really have that open door, kids in and out kind of thing going on.

    It's become more of a separating gap now that my son is older. School friends walk home together and hang out together, but he doesn't have that. He'd have to be driven to a hang out, and that somehow changes the dynamic.

    So, yes, I get this. I covet the easy access to friends and neighbors. I had it as a child. And I wish my son had it as well.

  4. I'm sorry for this impending loss. It must be very hard to see the breakup of such a wonderful neighborhood in this way. I pray that the new neighbors will be a blessing, and that you will be to them, as well.

  5. Oh Elizabeth. I'm not even going to say that it will all be alright. It's going to be different and I'm sorry.

  6. and I, who live in one of these burbs of which you speak, would give anything to live in your neighborhood.

  7. Living in DC, I understand this completely. There's the great "Kindergarten migration" where babies and toddlers in the city - fine. Kids that are school age? Off to Virginia or Maryland and the "good" schools. I very, very rarely see teenagers in my thriving crowded neighborhood unless they are tourists. There are just simply seemingly none here.

  8. Oh, that was hard to read. Makes me very sad for Henry and Oliver and you as well. Mom's just want the best for their kids and it sounds like you had it.

    The vision of you sitting in that car in the parking lot brought tears to my eyes too.

  9. It is such a loss to say goodbye to neighborhood friends, I feel your sorrow and think of you.

  10. good neighbors are very hard to come by; I feel your pain. the most wonderful years when my daughter was young was when we lived in a small neighborhood cul-de-sac with lots of kids of all ages. 4th of July BBQs in the middle of the street and block parties at Halloween for the kids.

    I was the one who moved out; how I wish I had stayed.

  11. I remember when I was a kid, a similar thing happened in our neighborhood -- several families with kids who were my friends moved away at about the same time. It was weird for me, but then, as you said, others moved in and everything evened out into a new social routine. Kids are resilient, fortunately!

  12. oh, elizabeth, i can feel your melancholy. but the kids will be alright. they have you, and always will. love.

  13. I love how you say "they don't live in neighborhoods but in beautiful houses on beautiful streets." We built a wonderful home in a subdivision and it never "gelled" into a community. We made the decision to turn away from the gorgeous new home and moved into town in an older little neighborhood nicknamed "hidden village" There is a bridge across the river which is the only access to the homes. Signs appear on it each day announcing birthdays, military service, choir practice and book clubs. Our neighborhood is a mixture of ages both of the people and of the homes... and although we are new we feel pretty cozy tucked in our little spot... in the shadow of the beautiful houses up on the hill.

    I found your beautiful blog by following the comment you left on mine through Karen. Isn't she lovely.

  14. So sad to hear of the "suburban migration" in your lovely neighborhood - I wish it wasn't so....

  15. It is so hard to lose good neighbors, and I suspect they are feeling the sadness of leaving your neighborhood behind as well. I am feeling the melancholy of knowing that we will soon be leaving the only house Lola has ever known and our neighbors are fantastic, but the kids are mostly in (different) high schools now and don't hang out together anymore and we need to simplify our life, too. I'm hoping that our new neighborhood will have lovely people who want community and can bring new friendships into our lives. I wish this for you, too, and suspect that with your openness and generosity and the enthusiastic boys you have, the new neighbors will flock to your door.

  16. so many choices and options. most of the times, we feel/are trapped.



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