The Neighborhood

A neighborhood is a group of people who share a location. We all live in a neighborhood of some sort. Not every neighborhood is a community, which are people unified by a shared purpose.

I move into a new neighborhood recently, and it was a nice change. I went from a middle class neighborhood to a working class neighborhood. As I was looking for a new place to live, location was quite important, not just in terms of commute to work, but stability of the environment. I was leaving the manicured cul-de-sacs for post World War II housing. I did not consider myself coming down in the world, I was ready to leave the mostly white-bread attitudes and pretentiousness for a breath of fresh air. Having lived in that stuffiness for over a decade, I was ready to relax. Don’t get me wrong, I lived around nice people who kept their lawns watered, houses in sparkling condition and took pride in the overall neighborhood.

I now live in the older, northern part of the city. This is a tale of two cities, the lower income north and the new, expensive south. Although I have met very few people, what strikes me is how many people fall in either of two groups. Older homeowners who have been there for many decades, and younger families who either bought or rented. With the limited affordable housing, houses in this area are snapped up quickly, often as rentals. The house next door to me sold in one day. During COVID, the realtor held an open house by appointment. The street was jammed up with cars, people waiting for their time to tour the house. I did not formally meet the folks who moved, although they waved when I saw them. They had two large dogs that barked and were aggressive at the fence when I was in the backyard. The new owners have one very passive dog that I have never heard bark and seems very friendly. Guess which neighbors I prefer.

The neighborhood I used to live in, people only used their backyard decks, if they even went outside. In this new area, the backyards are used, but some people even have lawn chairs in front of their homes and sit outside in the evenings. Now these houses do not have big, defined front porches, and that does not stop anyone from using their sidewalk or driveway. The only people I have witnessed doing this are older residents. I’ve even sat out front with a book and a beverage, and not once that I chased a kid off my lawn. Truth.

The condition of the properties in my neighborhood vary from immaculate care to hardy care. These are mostly one story ranch style, single garage houses, with decent sized yards. The builders had a standard design and stood up a lot of these homes after the World War II for young families. There was an explosive need for housing as G.I.s returned home from the war and started families. Large tracts of land were used to build inexpensive starter homes. They tended to look alike and were efficient to build, keeping the cost affordable to own. One old guy down the street has added onto his rancher, building structures onto each side and the back. I wonder if his name is Fred Sanford. The amount of stuff displayed or stacked around his house is quite impressive, and probably in violation of city code. It looks to have been there for a long time, so maybe no one cares. In my old neighborhood, that would have been an eyesore. Here, it’s colorful.

In this older neighborhood the trees are huge, some of the largest I have seen. Recently, an overnight thunderstorm caused a tree down the street to break and fall. This large tree fell on two houses and a truck. A tree company spent two days cleaning up and cutting down the remaining tree trunk.

One of the side streets in the neighborhood is supersized at about twice the normal width. A search of the records did not really reveal the reason but it was thought that for some reason there was additional right of way obtained, perhaps for utility lines that were never installed. Since many residents consider the public street to be an extension of their yard, this street has several basketball goals sunk into the group adjacent to the curb line. The street width makes a nice basketball court. Using the street as a playground/gathering place is not limited to a certain part of the city or demographic. I have heard many residents voice concern about their street or cul-de-sac being too rough or not maintained to their satisfaction to allow kids to safely play.

Neighborhoods are rated as the top quality of life criteria by residents on surveys, which is why the city invests millions of dollars annually to maintain and upgrade infrastructure. As an example, the city has a program that has been completely rebuilding one to two miles of neighborhood streets each year. By rebuilding I mean removing the street down to bare earth, rebuilding stormsewer lines and catch basins, new sidewalks and new LED streetlighting. The before and after photos are amazing. Why does the city not do more miles? At $4-$5 million per mile, it is unaffordable to do additional miles when a hundred-plus miles of streets need some kind of preservation each year.

There are more than a hundred neighborhood groups or homeowner associations in the city. The area I live in has a very loose, informal group. However, if you go east, or south, the neighborhood groups are more active and organized.

Every neighborhood has residents that watch everything and everyone, calling in suspicious activity or property maintenance issues. The guy with do-it-yourself structures is probably sitting on a few violations. A house on my same street always had their trash container out in the street. Yes, it was literally on the street side of the curb, where an inattentive driver might plow into it. The container was permanently ready for trash pickup day. Finally, it got moved to a corner of the driveway next to the garage. The residents have a nicely maintained property, so I do not understand the trash bin in the street. It sat there for weeks.

Across from my house is a large tree, with a broken limb that hangs nearly to the ground. It was like that when I moved in and is still there. I believe it is a rental and some people have been working there, before it is rented. I see them with paint and other repair items, just not a tree saw. I am tempted to have the hanging branch removed, but I do not want to spoil the character of the neighborhood.

Did I mention, my house backs up to a golf course? Now, those people take care of there trees!

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