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Something missing in today’s neighbourhoods
Mobility and zero degrees of separation have destroyed the way neighbourhoods used to be. And we have lost a lot because of this.
A neighbourhood used to be an area which surrounded a particular group of families who banded together to withstand social, cultural, economic and political forces impacting on them. Nowadays, everybody is pretty much on their own.
That’s because our links are scattered city-wide instead of next door, across the street and down the alley. Our kids are more likely to play with other children they meet at school or the local community centre (or the relatives and other urchin units of friends we force them to have play dates with). There is very little hide and go seek or tag being played on city blocks.
Saul Alinsky would not approve. The so-called "father of community development" popularized the concept of organizing neighbourhoods into viable, functioning units capable of standing up to negative forces which might impact on them from time to time. Alinsky deployed community development workers to "door-knock" and hold kitchen meetings which led to block clubs and then neighbourhood associations.
Alinsky’s idea was to get people who live beside each other to get to know one another and form a group capable of convincing city hall to install traffic lights if they think they are needed, improve garbage collection, perhaps build a community centre or maybe even to lower unfair taxes and things like that.
These kind of neighbourhood groups used to form naturally because human beings are social animals and it was difficult to get around to more biological and legal linkages. Motorized vehicles and public transit have increased mobility so we get together with who we want instead of trying to deal with whomever lives next door. The degrees of separation from our immediate neighbours increased as front porch verandas were replaced by back yard decks and high wooden fences.
It might be a good idea to get back to more socializing next door instead of across town. Alinsky wrote up all the benefits in a couple of books but the titles (Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals) might sound a bit dated or even intimidating (hey, we’re talking about kitchen klatches, not overthrowing any government here, right?)
Take a good look around. How many of your immediate neighbours do you really know? I’ll bet you apartment dwellers don’t even know most of the people who live on the same floor. So much for having a unified force when the heating system breaks down. And when was the last time you all gathered for coffee in a common room?
The definition of neighbourhood is "an area surrounding a certain person, place or object." Meanwhile, the word forum means "a place where views can be shared." This column is no substitute for community development despite its name.
The word neighbourhood can also be used in subjects like mathematics. Like an estimate is "in the neighbourhood of." It’s kind of sad this is how the word is now being used.
Don Marks is an Osborne Village-based writer.
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