Updated: Apr 22, 2020
My participation in The Hopeful Neighborhood Project has forced me to confront a fascinating reality in my life: I’m not sure what exactly counts as “my neighborhood.”
Don’t get me wrong – I know where I live! I’ve lived in the same home for 11 years now and have no problem finding my home. But my involvement in this neighborhood project has made me puzzle over what exactly counts as my neighborhood. Perhaps this is a puzzle particular to my locale: I live in a swath of suburban subdivisions west of St. Louis.
Out here in the suburbs the distinctions between different municipalities get blurry and the commuter nature of life further complicates matters. Technically, I live in Manchester, work in St. Louis, go to church in Chesterfield, have kids in school in Ballwin. I buy groceries in Town & Country, get gas in Creve Coeur, and go to the movies in Des Peres. (Lots of French names here in St. Louis!)
So, if I were to draw a circle around “my neighborhood” on a map – where should I draw the circle? I can’t very much pursue the common good of my neighborhood if I don’t know what I’m talking about. So, I went off in search of my neighborhood.
I started by drawing a circle around the municipality I technically live in – Manchester. Looking down at the map though I saw two problems: first, Manchester is a bit big for a neighborhood (18,000 residents!); second, I live at the extreme northeast corner of Manchester (when my son’s baseball goes over the back fence it technically leaves Manchester!)
So, in search of a smaller area, I tried to draw a circle around my subdivision. My subdivision has a name, but there’s no obvious demarcation between my own subdivision and the ones around it. I honestly didn’t know where to draw that circle, and my best guesses yielded a pretty small group of houses – no stores, no churches, no restaurants were within that circle. Seemed a little too small.
So, like Goldilocks, I went looking for something in-between. I tried my kids’ school district, specifically the boundaries for the elementary school they went to. And that, to be honest, came a lot closer. A moderately sized circle on the map, and many of the families we interact with live within that circle. Only problem for this commuter? Neither my church nor my work lies within that circle.
So, what’s a suburbanite in search of his own neighborhood to do?
Here’s where I’m so thankful for The Hopeful Neighborhood Project – they put me in touch with a helpful definition of neighborhood:
“a geographically localized community characterized by regular face-to-face interaction among residents.”
This language is so helpful. I can head back to my map and ask really helpful questions, like: Who do I have regular face-to-face interactions with? What geography do most of those people fall within? And those questions, for this suburbanite, have proved to be a very helpful place to start looking for my neighborhood.
From the forth coming title The Hopeful Neighborhood, copyright 2020 LHM. This is not the final form, please do not distribute or quote.