It’s spring. Finally! Friday, I took the day off from the treadmill at NIFS in favor of a walk around my neighborhood–the Old Northside in downtown Indianapolis–and was reminded why I love living downtown.
I used to live in the suburbs. I’m sure my neighbors were nice people, but in the ten plus years I lived in my house, I never met any of them. We’d wave as we turned into our driveways, and a few had children the ages of mine and the kids played together, but that was the sum total of our interactions. The houses were separated by large lots, and we didn’t have sidewalks to stroll, or front porches to sit on, so those venues for conviviality were missing.
Friday, I walked (on sidewalks) to one of the many restaurant/bars within walking distance of my house, to meet my husband for dinner. The scale of the neighborhood is pleasant, with small but adequate lots, and at least a third of the houses I passed are owned by people I know. Several were outside– doing lawn work or just enjoying the beautiful day– and we exchanged greetings as I walked by.
Ours is a pretty diverse neighborhood (my own short block has whites, blacks, Latinos, straights and gays) and for most of us, that’s one of its attractions. A significant number of the houses I walked past still have yard signs demanding the defeat of HJR 3, (the anti-same-sex marriage amendment) despite the fact that the legislative session is over.
One friend, who calls the restoration of his historic house his “100-year-project,” handed me a tulip from his garden. At the next intersection, I stopped to chat with a lawyer I know (he was picking up dog poop in his meticulously-cared for small yard).
I turned down Alabama Street, and about halfway to my destination saw a University colleague on her front porch with three other neighbors; they were having drinks and snacks and invited me to join them. It was clearly cocktail hour somewhere, so I did; we talked work and politics and waved at other neighbors who passed by, and then I walked on to meet my husband.
Saturday was another beautiful day, and I was out for another walk (my fitbit is a stern taskmaster). I ran into my son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren out for a bike ride. They live in the neighborhood too, and were headed for the Monon Trail that runs a half-block behind my house.
I know that there are people who value having acres of land, who treasure their solitude, are irritated by serendipitous encounters, and who don’t mind driving six miles for a loaf of bread. To each his own. But I absolutely treasure these everyday pleasures of urban life.
Urban neighborhoods–with sidewalks that actually go somewhere–build social capital and connect us to others.
With all due respect, I don’t think those gated communities with their “McMansions” on acre lots do that.