How many of your neighbors do you know? How often do you speak to them? Do you get along with them? Could you count on them in an emergency? Do the kids in your neighborhood play with each other?
Why do I ask?
I believe that the neighborhood is one of the building blocks of America that has slipped away from us, without us even realizing it. I think that it is why the internet, IM, and blogs are so popular. People are searching for that sense of community that is lacking in our lives. We have built our lives around the comfort and convenience of the automobile, and sacrificed walkable streets, daily interaction with our neighbors, and a sense of community pride. Communities now largely revolve around the local school district, as this is generally one of the only type of events that regularly gets more than 50 members of a neighborhood together for a common purpose. (Yes, for some there is the weekly religious service, but even the sense of local residents coming together has been diluted by the automobile which allows us to travel outside of our immediate area for the service.) Will future development in this area perpetuate this trend? Will new neighborhood development come with 2 acre lots, no sidewalks, and be miles from the nearest conviences? Will we continue to try to build in all of the conveniences of the outside world into our home - movie theatres? home offices? work out rooms? craft and sewing rooms?
Unfortunately... I believe that it will.
A Skidmore Prof has similar thoughts (Post-Star):
For all of the positive attributes that owners of these new, large homes love, though, the trend is troubling for some sociologists, who say it only contributes to environmental damage and further severs ties to the community.How do we turn against the tide? What can you do? Go introduce (or re-introduce yourself) to your neighbor. Maybe you could help him or her out with a little shovelling this winter. Or, if it's your thing, bake a nice tray of Christmas cookies and bring over a plate. Bury the hatchet on old disputes. Stop by your elderly neighbor's home and see if he or she needs anything when you are going out in harsh winter conditions to the store. Welcome new homeowners in a way that you would like to be welcomed.
The term "conspicuous consumption" was coined about a century ago by the American sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen to describe how important it was for the wealthy to be in fashion, said Rik Scarce, assistant professor of sociology at Skidmore College.
"One of the amazing things that has happened with the growth of the American middle class is that we all now want to consume conspicuously to show how large we live," Scarce said.
"It translates into the gigantic vehicles that we drive, the enormous homes that we construct for ourselves, our grossly oversized bodies," he said. "We're a society that seems like we're prepared to explode."
Scarce said material consumption can lead to a void in social life.
"A century ago, home entertainment was having a bunch of people over and having someone playing the piano and singing," he said. "Now, it's watching the DVD player, closed off from the rest of the world, and, quite commonly, closed off in our individual rooms."
Scarce also pointed to the environmental burden of spiraling lumber, construction materials, electricity, gas and oil consumption.
"The housing boom is a tragedy for the environment," he said.
Love thy neighbor? Let's at least start with a "hello". Maybe we can then start to improve our answers to the questions above.