August 1, 2012
By Jill Rothenbueler Maher
Summer affords my family more opportunities for talking with our immediate neighbors because the abundance of daylight and reasonable temperatures lure us to our front porch. Sometimes we bring full dinner plates outside and eat while enjoying the fresh air.
We often chat with neighbors while we are out on the porch. We know the names of our immediate neighbors and are up-to-date on the major events in their lives. Some blocks are even more connected than ours. There the residents come together because of a charismatic person who shares hyper-local news with neighbors and gathers and distributes block-residents’ email addresses and phone numbers, perhaps even organizing a block party. These initiatives help the neighbors gel.
Sharing information and making new friends with neighbors was far more common in the past, in Bay View and in the United States. Societal changes have altered that to the point where it is not uncommon for neighbors to rarely interact with one another.
Family sizes and routines have changed a lot in the “lifetime” of our neighborhood. In 1910, when many homes on our block were built, the average family size in the United States was 4.54, according to the U.S. Census. The average household size took a big downward slide in the 1930s and hovers at 2.58 today.
The children living on our block in the 1900s likely spent summers playing with nearby children while being supervised by their mothers. In 1910, about 20 percent of all U.S. women earned a paycheck, compared with 45 percent today, according to U.S. government statistics.
Given the prevalence and demands of full-time work of contemporary dual-income households, many children attend camp or are provided with some sort of non-parental child care from mid-June until school resumes. Therefore these children are not spending much time with their peers who live within shouting distance, and they aren’t inventing sidewalk games together.
Older children may have jobs that consume part of their day. People of all ages spend lots of time with TVs, computers, or other screens, drawn indoors by the comfort of air conditioning. Also, families are more geographically mobile and are not as likely as previous generations to live in the area where they grew up, which deprives them of multi-generational connections—kids playing with their cousins or the children of their parents’ childhood friends.
I feel fortunate that our neighborhood does have opportunities for neighbors to overcome the barriers that might keep us apart. I have made new friends—some with a child close to our daughter’s age—at a coffee shop or at the Bay View Community Center. A few have moved away, but I have seen others throughout the years at the library, playground, or a park splash pool. I see a few of them again because our kids attend the same local school. It has been especially comforting to see familiar parents at school because I’m more comfortable asking them questions or getting “the scoop” from them.
The Bay View Community Center recognizes the problem of isolated neighbors and has organized “Meet Your Community” play sessions Wednesday mornings. To aid people who might not be comfortable knocking on an unfamiliar neighbor’s door or introducing themselves in the alley, the play sessions are organized by street addresses.
When I sit on our porch, nearly every passerby seems to have a dog or a stroller. We parents with young children are lucky to have a neighborhood with abundant opportunities for strolling but also for meeting one another and even supporting each other.
Information about “Meet Your Community” play sessions is available at bayviewcenter.org
The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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