Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Building better neighborhoods one block at a time

With spring upon us, people are coming out of their houses. Parks are getting crowded with baseball practices and dog walkers. It's the season to work in the yard and in the neighborhood. St. Louis is a neighborhood city, and one of things that makes neighborhood life worthwhile are the interactions with good neighbors.

This year, we plan to rent a core aerator for the block and share it with all the neighbors. I'm the volunteer who thought this up, and there was enough interest from other neighbors, so we're going to give it a try sometime this spring.

We've got a block wide email list, so word about neighborhood stuff is quick and easy to circulate. Planning the aeration project was simple enough. To make better neighborhoods, we need to do more good neighbor projects. We need to do more little stuff that adds up to a better sense of community and more people knowing their neighbors.

What a difference St. Louis is from the commute-dependent place where I grew up. There, neighbors hardly knew each other, and never shared a meal or a ladder. Living in a place where neighbors know each other and work together is a blessing that isn't measured in dollars but peace of mind.

Block parties are great, and they take a lot of work and volunteers, but it's a one day thing. We need more little stuff going on the rest of the year. A beautiful block requires well maintained houses and yards. Working together as neighbors can make a so-so block better and raise property values. People want to live on blocks with good curb appeal and friendly neighbors.

There's lots of time spent complaining about things we don't like. What would the neighborhood be like if people instead spent that time doing positive things? They would be happier and the neighborhood would improve.

One good thing about the neighborhoods here is that the yards are small enough that it doesn't take all day or half a day to finish the yard work. That leaves more time to lounge on the front stoop, play some catch, play with the dog, or introduce the neighbors.

Given how much good neighbor work there is to do, maybe we should start looking for a place with even a smaller yard. Small yards, close together, with beautiful decorated brick, stone and painted wood trim houses look great all lined up on a traditional block.

Alleys? I could go on all day about alleys. That's a whole 'nother post. When an elderly lady neighbor lectures a bunch of teenagers about keeping the alley clean, that's a good sign you're in a solid neighborhood.

There is a critical mass to a good neighborhood, and it's about a lot more than property value. It's more about the distance between houses and people and how much good neighbor stuff is happening.

The amount of shared food and drink is a better indicator than just about anything else. It's a good thing that the fences between our houses are low enough that it's easy to share a cold beverage across them.

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