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In praise of neighborhoods

Published March 09. 2013 09:02AM


A full-page ad in our newspaper announced a "new" concept in housing development - new homes built around neighborhood pods, complete with stores, recreation and medical services all within walking distance.

Of course you're probably thinking the same thing I did - what's so new about that? We've had that concept for decades.

It's called neighborhoods.

I guess it's true that what's old suddenly becomes new again.

All small towns used to have neighborhoods like that, and many still do. If you still live in a neighborhood like that, consider yourself lucky.

As housing developments spread to the suburbs and small stores were replaced with malls and big box stores, that old-fashioned neighborhood concept started to disappear.

Today, living in most housing developments requires a car.

Need groceries? Get in the car and drive to the supermarket.

Need a doctor? You'll have to drive, maybe even to the next big town.

In most housing developments, including mine, if you don't have a car, you're stranded.

I was thinking today about Shamokin, the small coal town where I grew up. Stores, churches, doctor's and recreation were all within walking distance.

Many people today would turn their nose up at my old neighborhood where houses were either attached or close together.

Today, the byword is privacy. No one wants to see or hear neighbors. They want enough space around them so they can come and go without anyone "minding their business."

Truth be told, in my childhood neighborhood, we did mind each other's business. We called it caring. And I loved it.

If Mrs. Flanagan was sick and couldn't get to the store, she didn't have to ask for help. My mother sent me over to go to the store for her. It was about a one- mile walk to the best butcher shop and grocery store. That usually meant kids got sent to the store.

Mothers didn't worry about their kids walking so far. Things were safer then and all the neighbors looked after every kid, not just their own.

My childhood was nicer because of my neighbors.

I loved flowers but we didn't have a yard. Didn't matter. On occasion, Mrs. Krieger let me pick flowers from her yard, in return for helping her with the weeding.

When I wanted a dog and my mother said no, another neighbor told me to come by anytime and play with her dog. Of course I did. I even entered the German Schnauzer in a dog contest where we won the "friendliest dog" award.

I loved our neighborhood concept of sharing. If one neighbor had a lot of garden produce, they shared it around the neighborhood.

If Elsie cooked a big pot of homemade soup or made stuffed cabbage, that often got shared around the neighborhood, too.

When kids outgrew their clothes, parents passed the clothes along to others in the neighborhood. It was the norm.

Looking back, some might say we lived in a somewhat less desirable neighborhood because there were only a few single homes around us. I think I was surrounded with riches.

Everyone knew each other and went out of their way to help the neighborhood in any way they could.

Mrs. Tillett was a widow but she was more financially comfortable than the rest of us. When she realized a lot of kids in the neighborhood didn't have access to new books, she started a free neighborhood lending library in her basement. It was opened each weekday for us to walk in whenever we wanted.

Can you imagine that sort of thing happening today?

Every week in our newspaper I seem to read stories about health care workers stealing from clients or tradesmen helping themselves to what they see in someone's home.

When I had my new air conditioning installed, there were four workers doing the job. When they left, my new GPS was gone.

"Don't you know you have to watch everyone who comes into your home?" asked another handyman.

Just this week I learned my 80-year old neighbors were having a hard time. He uses a walker and she has problems and can't walk at all.

When I saw him at the mailbox, I made a point of telling him I would be happy to help them in whatever way they needed. He told me point-blank they "don't like bringing people into their home" because they were once ripped off.

Our trusting way of life has disappeared as well as our old neighborhood traditions.

I can think back to my old childhood neighborhood and can still name who lived in every home on the block. We all knew each other's parents, grandparents and the names of each pet.

Today, my neighbor Kay and I tried to name as many of our neighbors as we could. There are 40 homes on our block. I was only able to name 11 families - and I'm a friendly person.

While I loved the old neighborhood concept and would like to have that again, many people cringe at the thought.

They want privacy, not neighbors.

We deliberately build our homes as far apart as we can. Few care if they don't know the names of their neighbors. They like it that way.

We pull our cars into our private garages and shut the door, blocking out the outside world.

When we need something, we get in the car and drive.

I have a better home now than I ever did as a kid. But I still find myself missing that old-fashioned concept of "neighborhood."

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