07 June 2007

In The 'Hood

Well, my grocery store notion may not fly; at least according to a friend who is also an experienced local government person. He’s lived here his whole life, been close to the ups and downs of downtown way longer than me.

Another friend tells me that even successful leaders rarely bat much above .500. The best verge on two out of three. In other words, success is a matter of degree not kind. So if this idea can’t work, the idea of a cooperative grocery in my crossroads neighborhood, maybe another one could.

And then in dawned on me. What I want is neighborhoods. Healthy cities are made of neighborhoods. They have an integrity of their own that allows residents to get what they need, or most of it at least, from someplace near by. Modern developments do not do that. Because they are developed by a developer, the purpose is to sell houses so that the developer can make money. Commercial property is harder to sell, especially small commerce. and as everyone drives everywhere, there was no incentive or barrier to insure the growth of neighborhoods.

My neighborhood is almost one, but because I cannot shop locally, really, the residents are not moving up and down the street on their way to and from shops. Therefore we do not meet on the street. We are outside only to deal with the lawn. I am the exception walking to work.

When I lived in Austin Texas, our development was an enclave, and without a car a prison. Once when the car was in the shop I thought about going to the store until I realized it was three miles away, across a major highway, and that it was 95 degrees. I might as well have been in Alaska. Our first house in rural Massachusetts was closer to a grocery store, then and now.

Shopping areas, at major corners, are what focus neighborhoods. In NYC there is a food store every four blocks, and a news stand every other corner. Neighborhoods are physically more snug there. But life would be impossible without those shops close by.

So what I wanted was not a grocery so much as a neighborhood shopping area, a real one. what we have is two bad take out places and a seedy 7-11 with booze. There are some businesses, but they are not commercial. They are offices and so closed off from the public. We need fresh food, but also a drug store sort of place with household goods, a coffee shop / sandwich sort of place (which does exist but three blocks in the other direction), maybe a newsstand. Some areas have one or two, but only one neighborhood has the full range and it therefore has real integrity and identity.

Make it possible to live where you live, and you might get a lively neighborhood. Make it necessary for people to go away to get what they need and it will only be a posh dormitory. Grocery or no, we need a neighborhood center and it should be right there. Now, how to get it?

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