Whether rural, urban or somewhere in between, our neighborhood shapes us and becomes our experience of community.
I was raised on a quiet suburban street. My guess is that quite a few of you were, too. I very much liked our neighborhood. The street was full of kids, there was a park behind our house to explore and lots of houses being built that we could play in at night after the workers went home.
Every summer, we had a block party. On the Fourth of July, all the dads came out of their garages loaded down with rockets and sparklers from the stand down the road and there was a collective fireworks show.
It wasn’t unusual to see roving packs of kids riding bicycles around the block or a roller hockey game blocking the road down in the cul de sac. My parents still live in that same house I grew up in, rooted to the memories and stability of the place.
This rootedness, I think, is important. Especially in a world that has become transitional and lacking in the strength of local community. People move domiciles frequently, even hopping to entirely different towns and states. Usually this is because of job opportunities, which is understandable, but the separation from family and neighborhood has a cost — even if it’s just moving an hour down the highway. Many people feel that they lack the support structure of a community, people who know you and care about you.
That’s why, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to settle down in a neighborhood and put down roots, it’s worth considering what sort of neighborhood you want to live in, especially if you’re going to be raising children there and spending decades investing in that community.
Rural, urban, or something in between?
A lot of the Catholic families I know right now are pining to relocate to the countryside, get a piece of property, and homestead. I have to admit, it doesn’t seem a bad idea. There are virtues to a rural living. It’s a simpler pace of life, more in-tune with nature, and affords more freedom for children. If there’s a nearby village or town, it might be just the sort of tight-knit, caring community we all long for. Yes, it seems to me that rural life may very well be undervalued.
Our own family made the opposite commitment. We very much wanted to purchase a house in an urban neighborhood. We love our local coffee shop and other restaurants to which we can walk. Every Friday we walk down to Melo’s for cheese pizzas. They know us there. We often see our neighbors out taking a walk in the evening and I enjoy the way in which front porches tend to become gathering spaces on hot summer evenings. We enjoy the older architecture and historical qualities of the homes – ours is a red-bricked Victorian built in the late 19th century. Most of all, as parents of six children, we appreciate the fact that when we walk to the park to play, the kids interact with a diverse group of children from different backgrounds.
Some might think it doesn’t really matter where you live or what kind of neighborhood you raise your children in. I think it matters quite a bit. I know many people who purchase houses without first considering the neighborhood. They don’t see how it will affect their lives. They simply see a house, and because everyone else seems to be buying bigger houses and it’s the thing to do, they grab the first big house that they can afford.
It isn’t always worth it, though. Some places seem like the neighbors hardly know each other, or force families into long commutes and car-time, or don’t have access to a good parish nearby. Living in those places is nothing more than a place to sleep and commute from. A neighborhood is about more than the size of the houses; it’s about the people.
Our neighborhood shapes us
There’s no perfect place, and of course people have good reasons for why they prefer the countryside, the city, or the suburbs. Sometimes, it’s also true that work commitments or financial realities mean we don’t get to live where we want. The point is, the type of neighborhood we choose to live in affects our families, and places are living, breathing communities with personalities all their own. It bears careful consideration.
In her novel My Antonia, Willa Cather describes the farmland of the great plains, writing,
“The windy springs and the blazing summers, one after another, had enriched and mellowed that flat tableland; all the human effort that had gone into it was coming back in long, sweeping lines of fertility. The changes seemed beautiful and harmonious to me; it was like watching the growth of a great man or of a great idea.”
I feel the same way about my urban neighborhood. It’s the physical expression of how generations of humans have lived together, shaping the place with their joy and sorrow, hope and beauty.
We would do well to consider where we put down roots, because the soil of that place will shape how we grow. And, of course, we too have an effect. We too will take our place in that communion of souls who contribute so much to making these varied places — rural, urban, or anything in between — into homes.