“They bulldoze out to the country and put up houses on little loop-de-loop streets… Now the farm roads a four-lane that leads to the mall… Ghost of old buildings are haunting parking lots in the city of good neighbors that history forgot.” –Subdivisions, Ani Difranco
There’s something in the way we move; in the not so subtle way we cocoon ourselves in the metallic frame of an automobile; or within the fenced-off boundaries of our lawn; or in our sheltered “air-conditioned” square-footage. We build two-foot deep facade porches in honor of a bygone era of neighborliness, or none at all, just an underused welcome matt at the front door. There was a time when neighbors were essential to our survival, but in today’s face-based, electronic-technologic-automobile age, we can survive anywhere on the grid (as long as the grid is powered).
When we moved to the city, we saw “lawns” that were four by four squares of seeded dirt with privacy fences on either side leading to a detached garage. In some cases, your front “lawn,” was cared for by someone hired by the association. Like the front porch, these neighborhoods were facades entirely. There was nothing neighborly about them and this worried me.
It also got me thinking about community. Here in Traverse City, amid huge economic downturn, our local cooperative food market is thriving. It’s not magic fairy dust, or calculated business savvy helping the co-op along, but rather smaller, sustainable practices which allow for community input and little outside influence. The co-op thrives because have taken not just the benefit, but also the responsibility of building on sound practices which reuse and recycle resources, involve the larger community and encourage people to shop locally. Many of our products are produced locally (eggs, milk, peanut butter, cheese, fruits and vegetables, etc) and sustained locally by families who shop at the co-op.
It’s not just the food that keeps the co-op going, it’s an environment that builds community – and an invitation to share ideas. When you get a group of locals together (no matter where you live), and ask them how things within their community can be made better, you’ve set in motion an action that will follow through to results. City planners today consider the long-term impact of their architecture, green spaces and markets. Today we are considering not only the open spaces we treasure, but also what edible plants may be added to increase potential output for all those who share the space.
It’s time we step back and take the time to honor our individualism, but maybe not to the same degree we have these last fifty years. Maybe it’s time we realize we’re all in this together and that no one truly owns the space beneath their feet, but borrows it from another.