My company recently relocated to a neighborhood just south of downtown Austin. Our appropriately quirky office is surrounded by a mix of homes and food trailers, wildflowers and cacti. I’ve always enjoyed exploring new neighborhoods, especially on foot, and this one gets more interesting with each step.
New eco-friendly homes border older ones with overflowing accumulations of tools and treasures. There are wandering chickens and a house that hosts its own farmer’s market on the weekends. Cats appear at every turn and the porches are oft-used by creatures and humans alike. It’s a short walk to restaurants, coffee shops, doughnut places, smoothie shops, and a stunning number of taco options. Both a school and a library are nearby. I’ve had entertaining conversations with the friendly elderly man behind the Keep Out signs, baristas, the happy people at the cupcake shop, and parents out for walks, kids and dogs in tow.
We love metaphors on Uncommon: we talk often of porches, sunsets, and trampolines. My favorite, though, is neighborhood. Uncommon is a neighborhood, not a network. What is it about neighborhoods?
Neighborhoods have a story. They evolve as the years pass. The bar turns into a coffee shop, then a deli, then a coffeehouse/bar. An apartment is home to a young family for years, then a mysterious person who keeps to themselves, followed by an older couple who invites every new resident to dinner. The bike paths are worn over many summers and the basketball court is used late into the evening. The small church hosts the weddings and funerals that mark so many endings and beginnings.
Within a neighborhood, we cross paths with people we might not otherwise. When a couple moves in next door, a person opens an art gallery down the street, or someone passes by every day with their dog, there are unexpected introductions, discoveries, and, now and then, disputes. These interactions take place within a shared context, though. There’s a foundation of acceptance and cooperation when people share a place. “We’re all going to be here tomorrow, and the day after that, and probably next week, too.”
When you’re part of neighborhood, you’re not only part of its story, you help write it. How do people who live here treat each other? Are new people welcomed with open arms? What’s the acceptable volume of music? What do we do when someone has a baby or has a serious illness? When a pet goes missing or a tree falls in a storm, who pulls everyone together to help? We lend a hand because we know we’ll need a hand one day, too.
Not all neighborhoods are welcoming, supportive places, of course, but every neighborhood’s story is unfinished. Characters are introduced and a new chapter begins. What happens next is up to us.
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The latest dispatch asked, When was the last time you were out of your element?
I'm out of my element every day in the office. Emails, meetings, conference calls, carpet, fluorescent lighting, climate control... These things are hard for me. My first real job was as a wilderness survival instructor in Southern Utah. Reading about your camping experience(s) revived the teacher and outdoorsman in me. Anyone can do it; you just need to learn how.
A few months ago a coalition of conservative churches in my semi-rural small city put together a “Rally to Restore Religious Freedom”. This happened, not coincidentally, not long after the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, and Indiana’s state legislature was responding by passing religious freedom legislation that guaranteed people and businesses with a religious objection to same-sex marriage would be able to refuse service to LGBTQ couples.
My tiny church got wind of a counter-rally/protest happening across the street, organized by the local LGBTQ support network. We decided to attend, and we spent an hour or so listening to lovable hippies and weirdos try to stir up some enthusiasm from the small crowd of mostly-introverted LGBTQ people and allies. I hadn’t been to anything even remotely resembling a political rally since my high-school years, so it felt incredibly strange to find myself out in public, demonstrating in even the most mild-mannered way on behalf of anything. The fact that my fellow protestors were the very same people I would very likely have been protesting against fifteen years ago made it even stranger.
I'm voting in my first Presidential election this year. I'm having political discussions with anyone and everyone—on purpose. I'm out my element all the time because I don't have the history or the emotional anchors that other native born citizens do. I refuse to buy into the notion that if we stop discussing politics it will all be that much easier. I believe the reverse is true—if we don't talk about politics, while we deeply and intentionally listen to each other, things won't get easier they will just become that much worse.
We Are Hopelessly Hooked by Jacob Weisberg:
How can we enjoy the pleasures and benefits of mobile and social media while countering its self-depleting and antisocial aspects? Turkle keeps her discussion of remedy general, perhaps because there aren’t many good solutions at the moment.
We need a Web that is less corrosive to our humanity.
What makes a great neighborhood?