Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trolley cars and the neighbors we never see

The other day while driving home from the only local motu proprio mass, I pointed out to the children a pair of old trolley train tracks which were visible at the road surface. For them, trains are a novelty and cars are the only practical mode of transportation. But it wasn’t that long ago that those trolley tracks were the more practical mode of transportation.

The neighborhood those tracks run through was once Italian and scaled not to cars, but to the people who populated it. The residential areas remain scaled, but the businesses that served those neighborhoods are gone, replaced by a shopping areas scaled not to men, but scaled to their machines.

What is lost at the most local level, and perhaps at the most important level, is the interaction of neighbors, walking to the local store, riding together on the local trolley and the like.

In the city, zoning now requires all garages must enter off the alley, and while this would at first blush appear to be conducive to capturing the front porches, front yards, tree-lawns and streets for pedestrians, what has actually occurred is that the front areas have become as a result even more desolate because when the residents leave their homes, they leave through their back door and take their car. And so the inner city neighborhoods are no different from their sterile suburban counterparts where the primary entrance to home is through the garage door.

The result of the primary entrance through the garage,( along with the backyard having become the primary outdoor space where the family gardens and spends its outdoor time ), is that the chance meeting and interaction with neighbors is now a very infrequent occurrence.

There remains a romantic notion of socializing with neighbors, but drive around and observe how many of those porches are being used. Or do the same for the balconies in the newly constructed urban mixed use areas. Perhaps one out of a 1000 is being used during peak hours when use would be most likely to occur. Or at least that is my observations from having done it on a number of occasions.

Of course not building a balcony, and to a lesser extent a front porch, is financial suicide even though neither will ever be used, because what people romanticize using is not the same as their actually using it.

An error grounded in romanticism that home buyers can be expected to make, but it's unbecoming for professionals to make the same error. If we're to solve a problem, the first step is to not get caught up in unrealistic romanticized yearning for what doesn't exist.

Driving across town to special functions has become the norm where socialization is strategically planned in advance. Such as socializing after Mass at one's personal parish. A parish I attend not only because of the Mass, but because those who also attend are culturally like I am, and their children are who I want my children to associate with; which is the other part of the loss, that intact Italian neighborhood we were driving through was once populated with people who were culturally the same.

Where as now, the most common cultural similarity within virtually any given neighborhood is monetary income. With the more 'virtuous', i.e. more capable of conspicuous consumption, living in the better neighborhoods.

No comments:

Post a Comment