Neighborhood identity

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How Urban Geometry Creates Neighborhood Identity reminded me of a thought I often have about where I live.

We have an apartment on the third floor in Adams Point. We have spoken to the folks on either side of us, and our building manager lives on our floor; e is the only one we really talk to in our building. We see others in the lobby or on the elevator, but I wouldn’t say we are acquaintances, and definitely not friends.

On the other hand, we know the names of people in other parts of our neighborhood, in part because they live in street-level homes, and have fruit trees or porches, natural spaces to notice and comment to one another.

I am not aware of population density in Oakland, but I imagine that my neighborhood has a fairly dense section, because we are surrounded by 3+ floored buildings, taking up entire blocks. Our building has 24 units, on a block that has three other apartments and six single family homes.

I personally don’t mind where I live, because we have immediate access to areas where people walk around and hang out. Most of my neighbors and nearby folks we meet are on parts of Grand Lake or Lakeshore Avenue, or just somewhere around Lake Merritt. It isn’t exactly about identity, but I consider if I am isolated from the people around me, and it somewhat feels like that. But as we have the aforementioned social valves, I enjoy the privacy and quiet our apartment affords us.

We didn’t plan to move here, we were forced to move in desperation, and just got very lucky that there was a vacancy when we were in need. We’ve been here almost three years, and with rising rents in this area we couldn’t stay in it if we moved. But that is for a different post. :slight_smile:

Also related read recently found at

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Let me start by saying, “Mike, we ought to get a cup of tea soon!” :slight_smile:

Honestly, I’ve been unavailable beyond the physicality of my family situation (more on that below) because I hate walking in the rain, and it has rained a lot. Great (because drought), but makes me prone to hibernation.

So that Vox article, there is a couple points that I’ve been obsessing over lately.

The gist was that the key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That’s why we make friends in school — because we are forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows.

I feel like being at Impact Hub Oakland is very much a college experience for me. I mean, I lived on campus at UCSC, but I wasn’t a student and I only connected with the people in my immediate housing area. I’ve created a lot of new and interesting friendships since being at the Hub, and I fuly attribute it to “repeated spontaneous contact”.

And when we have kids, we find ourselves tied to those houses. Many if not most neighborhoods these days are not safe for unsupervised kid frolicking. In lower-income areas there are no sidewalks; in higher-income areas there are wide streets abutted by large garages. In both cases, the neighborhoods are made for cars, not kids. So kids stay inside playing Xbox, and families don’t leave except to drive somewhere.

Aside: I left in that last line because while we are a carless family, and don’t let our kid play games alone, I am a gamer and it is one of our family past times.

That is more or less our experience. As Clover hasn’t been in a school setting, all eir friends are the children of parents we meet at play congregation points: playgrounds, parks, homeschool gatherings, those kind of things. And while they definitely result in spontaneous contact, it doesn’t repeat itself nearly as much. I am sure @susan can speak more to that.

We are fully aware of our privilege in terms of time and access, and part of that is the unfortunate realization that because others don’t enjoy more time, we don’t get to see them in the our walkshed. We have to go out of our way to find other families/kids. And we as adults spend a substantial amount of our “abundant” time planning out these sorties. We are convinced that if we had a car we would have more social interactions… but what kind of choice is that?

I personally think that it is getting better as Clover grows older. I can take em out on an hour walk without bringing a bag of supplies or a stroller, and that is a big step! But it is far different from my own experiences, in part in suburban Alabama, where our squad of local kids would hop between each other’s yards, or go hang out on the edge of a nearby forest.

And one more observation from that article:

To some extent, economic and employment trends have made us rootless. We move around much more and remain in jobs for less time (or work in the “gig economy”). We don’t stay in one place the way our parents and grandparents did. Those trends, which have brought good along with bad, are likely irreversible.

My situation isn’t as prescriptive as it is in reaction to the trend of moving towards a gig economy: I thrive in it! But I think it is more about my mental state and how I am able to relate to the work I do. At the same time, working “full-time” as a freelance knowledge worker and becoming a parent has made me set down more roots than ever before.

I wonder if I can have the flexibility I enjoy now, and make more weak and strong connections with the people immediately around me…

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We don’t stay in one place the way our parents and grandparents did.

That’s probably not true. I haven’t read in depth but have seen a bunch of claims (ex) that geographic mobility in the US has declined for recent generations.

I suspect that decline in mobility is actually bad for lively neighborhoods and solid relationships. If you’re stuck because places with better opportunities are too expensive (one of the mooted explanations), sure you know everyone you’re stuck with, but that sounds dismal. So dismal that you might look for a populist dictator to deliver salvation.

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