Spring in the Hood

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.


  1. Sheila; I have often commented to family and friends that “neighbors are not neighbors as we used to know them”, I miss exactly what you encountered on your walks. I have always had neighbor friends to share time with till I moved back to Indianapolis from Florida in 2001; things seemed to have changed a great deal. The neighborhood I left in 1994 to move to Florida was interracial and I had friends and knew who other people were. I became astutely aware of this isolation earlier this year after that 10 1/2 inch snowfall and 12 below zero temperatures when the power went out only on my side of the street. I had yelled across the street to a neighbor cleaning snow off of her car; asked her to please call IPL to report the outage, she waved her broom and nodded “yes”. Never came to check on this 76 year old, deaf, disabled woman living alone. Five hours later I spotted the only friend in the neighborhood using his snowblower to clear my driveway; he called my son to rescue me. This is typical today; it is not only lonely and a depressing sign of the times, it is dangerous for seniors and disabled. The above situation would never happen where you live; my neighborhood has a number of rental homes so it has become a somewhat transient area. Enjoy your lovely neighborhood and your friendly neighbors and count your blessings.

  2. When my aunt died, the pastor who spoke was her next door neighbor. He gave what I consider the ultimate Hoosier communal compliment: “Bessie neighbored well.” I often remembered the sentiment that ‘neighbor’ is a verb.

  3. I have a modest house in the suburbs…I hate home owners association and so do most people I have spoken with who are my age and under (I’m 45). I noticed some of the neighbors when they first moved in made friends but when those things went south they used the HOA as an harrassment tool. If I lived in the St. Louis area I would definietly live in one of those old walkable neighborhoods (Tower Grove, Benton Park, Soulard). If I can’t live there than I want a modest house w/ no HOA’s and a yard for my dogs.

    I am on my towns zoning board and a recent plannersweb update has stated that people either want to live urbanly in walkable neighborhoods or they want large yards. I just want to live somewhere where I can have peace at my home. No HOA that tells me my garden flag is against covenance/

  4. We live in a small and love the neighbors.
    My daughter and son-in-law moved to North Salem from with an HOA. None of her neighbors even introduced themselves. But some broke her windows and egged her house. HOA die nothing to encourage parents to talk to their children. She lived there 8 years.

  5. This will be a quick post, maybe I spoke too quickly about neighbors not being neighbors. I was mugged on my driveway this morning at 10:45; he got my purse, all ID, money, checing and savings books and I spent the day in Methodist ER. Must spend the next 4-5 days with my son and his family due to concussion, have stitches, black eye, scraped face, bruises, strained arm, hand and leg. NEVER BE A GOOD SAMARITAN. I thought he was asking for dirctions, reached into my purse for my pad and pen due to deafness and he grabbed purse straps, drug me half way down my driveway before I landed head and face first on the asphalt. IMPD were very helpful as were Emergency Technicians. The first person to reach me when I began screaming was a biker I have never seen before, then neighbors came quickly to help and to call 911. Will post more later.

  6. Your neighbourhood sounds just like mine Sheila and what you love about yours is what I love about mine, in inner south of the Sydney CBD, dense living with mostly various-sized joined terrace houses, unit-blocks and warehouse conversions, lots of parks, cobblestone footpaths. Within a block of home there is a seafood outlet (voted best in the area), 8 cafes, a hardware outlet, my antique dealer, a pub, 2 fine dining Italian restaurants, a bus stop, my pet food supplier, dourdough bakery, barista, and a diverse population. Within a 5 minute walk is the railway station and local village (Sydney = ~ 500 villages). 10 minutes’ drive away is the airport. Each Christmas the neighbours in our block have a street party – or, rather, ‘back lane’ party since all our houses also have back lane access. My close neighbours & I have reciprocal arrangements when each of us is away re mail, animals, garden watering etc. When I retired recently my brother and his wife who live in a lovely northern Sydney beaches suburb wanted me to move near them, but I keep saying to myself, ‘How good is living here?’

  7. Great post! I love our Old Northside Neighborhood. I’m fortunate in that I know all of my next door neighbors, and I couldn’t ask for better ones. I’ve lived here since 1999, and the neighborhood reminds me of my small hometown in northern Indiana.

  8. @Joann: Glad you escaped with your life. Cancel everything and start over. 1-800-CCR-AMEX is a fine registry for your important stuff. One call, that’s all. They take over from there, even though your valuables are already gone. I am so sorry. Many of us have been there!

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