I happen to think we live in the best part of town. Others might not agree, but screw them. We bought our house about seven years ago, and in that time I’ve started to understand how people become territorial about their neighborhoods. I never really got that before. It’s probably because I’ve never lived in the same house, or even in the same neighborhood, for more than four years at a time.
It used to baffle me that people organized themselves into violent gangs based on their street addresses. I still can’t fathom the violence part, but I can see how, when anchored in a geographical location by whatever forces–economics, peer pressure, inertia, comfort–people become defensive of their own ‘hoods and critical of others’.
And sure enough, even among our yuppie friends, we talk like a bunch of street punks about those people who live in neighborhood X or suburb Y. Well–we don’t talk about popping caps in people’s asses or anything. We say stuff like, “I don’t see how they can stand the traffic out there,” or “I could never live at the beach–it’s like a big frat party,” or “I can’t even tell one of those stucco McMansions from another.” I’m sure they say things about our neighborhood like, “I’m just not crazy about all the homeless guys sleeping behind the grocery store.”
We live in one of the old neighborhoods in our city where gentrification has been on the march for the past decade. You would think that the improvements would have slowed down during the recession, but as someone who spends a LOT of time walking around with kids and a dog, I get the feeling that people are feathering their nests rather than moving on to fancier parts of town. There are fewer houses being “flipped;” but there are a lot of homeowners renovating places that they realize they’ll be staying in for a long time. Homeowners like us.
When we found out we were having twins, on Nov. 5, 2008, we immediately set to doubling the size of our little shotgun shack. And even though I did most of the work myself, we still had to empty our coffers and max out our credit in order to build the addition. So we’re fully invested in the neighborhood.
The reason this is on my mind right now is that I’ve been feeling rather smug about having chosen (I use that term loosely because really, it’s not like we could have moved or anything, given the current housing market) to double down on our neighborhood and commit ourselves to raising kids here. Our friends in other parts of town may have big lawns and “good schools” and “no open-air drug/prostitution markets within a mile of their homes;” but we have a lot of stuff that’s way cooler than that.
I can harness up our dog to the Radio Flyer and pull the kids to a park that includes several playgrounds, miles of nature trails, baseball fields, soccer pitches, tennis courts, a velodrome (!), bocce courts, a disc golf course, etc., etc. Not that they are able, at 20-months old, to take advantage of all those amenities; but someday they will be. (There’s also a thriving gay cruising scene at the park, but that only happens after dark.)
I can also strap the girls into the bike trailer and take them to the zoo, a whole selection of museums, more playgrounds, and several kid-friendly alehouses. Screw a bunch of suburbs! I haven’t put gas in the minvan for three weeks!
Lately, the thing that I’ve been appreciating most about our neighborhood is the dead-end alley behind our house. Sure, sometimes we find unsavory things back there (I will spare the gentle readers the details, but let’s just say we’ve found evidence of all sorts of human dramas having unfolded), but it’s nothing that a little cleanup with a long stick can’t remedy. Yes, it’s true that some people think a blind alley is a great place to dump unwanted furniture, but an unprejudiced aesthetic sensibility can find visual value even in a clutter of couches and desk drawers*.
And the sweetest thing about our alley is its dead end, right near our house. With no through-traffic, I can play with the kids for hours back there without any worries about traffic. Our crazy dog runs loose while the kids ride their trikes (the trikes I built for them–in the alley) and kick balls. They dig with their little plastic shovels in the gravel-filled potholes, and delight at the echoes of their own shrieks in the carport under the apartments at the end where the alley dumps out into the street.
The alley is also the place where we get to interact with the neighbors from the next street over. They all watched our addition go up, and have seen the girls go from insensate bundles to squealing dynamos that clomp thunderously around on our deck. They’re used to Stella charging up to them and barking even though she has known them since she was a puppy. I owe them all for tolerating the noisy inconveniences of concrete trucks blocking their garages and power tools running nonstop for over a year. And they owe me for the free labor, consultations, and tool loans I’ve provided for their home improvement projects.
An outsider might look down our alley and think it had little to offer. But to me it’s every bit as friendly as the cleanest cul-de-sac in suburbia.
*I actually want to find and exterminate the people who dump their junk in our alley, if you want to know the truth.