Thursday, August 26, 2010

Street Envy

Welcome to the Albany Home Zone. This block, maybe half a mile away, has transformed itself with curb extensions to calm traffic and expand play areas. The home-zone concept, which originated in the UK, appeals to the wonderfully vagabond sensibility of this block, which says streets should be for people first -- not cars.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, when this neighborhood was considered too dangerous to market, a group of socially-conscious friends -- many of them from the cycling community -- started buying property on the block. Those with multi-units drew kindred spirits, until what they'd created was a community within the community.

It was with that critical mass that the block was able to lobby funds for the home zone. I envy them that. I think of how difficult it's been to tackle similar problems on my own block. Even neighbors' petitions for something as simple as speed bumps have run into, well, speed bumps, from car lovers and Libertarians alike.

I've often wondered what we could accomplish with a group of friends together in a finite geography: My own dreams have veered more toward the driftless region of Wisconsin, or maybe metropolitan Detroit. It's easy enough to imagine: A happy enclave of like-minded people, creating a sense of home out of a shared will and vision.

And then I take the fantasy a little further: The potlucks and the barbecues. The coparenting and built-in dogsitting. The reading groups and swapped garden harvests. The knitting groups. The organized bike rides. The spontaneous conversations in the street. The ringing doorbells and telephones. Going gray together. Taking a morning jog and bumping into someone who might ask to join you. The concord and communion. And likely for me, and the challenge to carve out a moment alone.

As I try to catch my breath, I realize: I don't belong in an enclave.

I guess I like choosing between a quick wave and a longer conversation. I like the mirage of anonymity. I might gladly trade Libertarianism (and litterbugs) for speed bumps, but not for consensus, because even though others may stay sharp and curious regardless, I get lazy without something to bristle against.

I like our Sox fan neighbors, our churchgoing neighbors, our foul-mouthed neighbors, our opera-singing neighbors, even our hard-partying and persnickity neighbors. I don't see much potential for sustained collective involvement in projects together. But we sure throw a mean block party. And we managed to create a splendid corner garden, which I have to admit is prettier than speedbumps.


leslie said...

I hear ya. When our nearby co-housing neighbors mention music recitals and Sunday dinners and bee keeping, I get a little pang of envy. To be surrounded by so many engaged spirits! But then I think of a few of my ways I prefer to accept without commentary (TV, frozen pizzas, our dog's collar), and I have to concede that that sort of arrangement would drive me nuts. More power to 'em, though.

Rosemary said...

Ditto what Leslie said. When we moved to Mo-town, the neighborhood we lived in was talked up as if it *were* such an enclave. At the time, that sounded heavenly, after living on a busy one-way four-lane in a dodgy area of Greeley, where I never knew any of my neighbors except the guy who lived in the house on one side of us and ran his business out of the house on the other side of us.

After three years, though, I'm actually relieved that--far from being the faculty ghetto/commune I was expecting and hoping for--the practice here is much more of the quick-wave-and-go-about-your-business variety.