April 6, 2011 9:16:00 AM
Scott Colom - [email protected]
Since I''ve finished school, and lived in several parts of Mississippi, I''ve realized how much neighborhoods have changed since my childhood. Now, neighborhoods have less meaning. Neighbors don''t talk as much. A nod or wave is commonly the main acknowledgment of a neighbor''s existence. Our children interact less. It''s rare to see kids playing football or riding bikes together.
Neighborhoods were much different growing up on the southside of Columbus. Then, southside was full of energy. The world centered on what was going on outside the houses. The Harris family''s yard was the neighborhood sport''s arena. On the right side of the house, kids played tackle football until everyone hobbled home full of bruises. The garage side of the house had a perfect space for a field, and we spent Saturday playing baseball with tennis balls and sticks.
Komisty Harris, the youngest girl in the Harris family, didn''t play sports so she organized parties where everyone contributed one or two dollars for an arrangement of snacks from the store. The parties consisted of fighting over what snacks to get and eating the snacks as quickly as possible.
During this time, parents also worked together to raise children. One of our neighbors, Mary Frances Peek, baby-sat my brother and I so much that we referred to her as "Ma Peek." Her grandchildren were our age and we often played and watched television at each other houses. Several kids in the neighborhood spent the whole summer at my house playing video games and sports, but also mowing the yard and gardening. My father lectured all of us about the proper way to pick weeds as if we were all his children.
Much has been written and discussed about the decline of neighborhoods across America. National Public Radio and television shows have discussed this phenomenon. Books and news articles have been written about the subject. What''s always been missing from these discussions is ways to address this development.
I thought it would be easy. When I moved to a new neighborhood, I would make a point to meet my neighbors. But, day by day, I kept putting it off. I would pull into my driveway after work and have the perfect opportunity to introduce myself to a neighbor. Yet, I always came up with an excuse. I either had a long day at work or needed to check my e-mail or was in a rush to watch a television show. Every occasion felt inopportune, so I nodded or waved and rushed into my house.
Before I realized it, I had been living in my neighborhood for months and still didn''t know my neighbors'' names. That''s when I realized one of the roots of the problem. Our lives have become so busy with work and social media and text messaging that we don''t prioritize interactions with others.
Therefore, this past weekend, I took the time to reach out to my neighbors. The neighbors across the street, Rick and Shawn, were outside talking when I introduced myself and asked them about the neighborhood. Both complained about how little they knew about anyone on the street. I talked to the neighbor on the left side of my house named Shaquita Harris, who has several beautiful children, and she also felt isolated in the neighborhood. All my neighbors expressed a strong desire to change this dynamic.
Taking the time to meet people is the first step in reversing the decline of neighborhoods. To encourage more communication, we need neighborhood associations that welcome new people and coordinate events like block parties that give areas character and uniqueness. This will create pride and increase morale in neighborhoods. We also need community spaces, such as coffee shops and small bookstores, that provide people more opportunity to interact, to have conversations and to learn about each other.
This revival of neighborhoods won''t be easy or happen over night. It''s become easy for a house to be a castle and talking to neighbors to feel like a chore or the creation of noisy neighbors. But the benefits of a vibrant neighborhood, benefits I experienced and enjoyed as a child, outweigh the negatives. The benefits make a neighborhood more than a collection of houses. In fact, the benefits create a neighborhood.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.