Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"I was just in the neighborhood" I: Overview

Greetings, reader(s). Most all our stuff is here at the new place; the things that matter have been unpacked; we still have to hang pictures; there are boxes of things we'd forgotten we had (because they'd been in storage, some of them, for four years) that we need to get reacquainted with so as to decide what to do with them. Now, we need to do our bit to goose the Durable Goods component of our nation's economy by buying a computer desk, another bookshelf, and a washer and dryer. Meetings for the new semester begin week after next. We may actually have most of this in hand by then.

Ahhh, domesticity.

Scruffy and I have also been getting to know our new neighborhood. We've not lingered too long because of the heat here (well over 100 degrees for the past couple of weeks), so what follows is intended to give those interested a sense of the lay of the land around our new domicile.

I should first say by way of disclaimer that though I've now lived in cities for all my adult life, I've never lived in a space quite like this one. What follows, then, may seem ho-hum to you; to me, though, it's a little bit unfamiliar.

Envision a residential neighborhood bounded by three streets, one of which provides the sole access in or out and which together form a trapezoidal space traversed by three other east-west streets. The streets forming the trapezoid have sidewalks on on side; the east-west streets do not. Though we don't technically live on a cul-de-sac, that's effectively the space we live in. To the east and south are buffers of undeveloped land and the Kansas Turnpike; the western boundary is a creek.

The streets were built in 1955 (this according to the dates stamped in the curbs); the houses appear to be from that era as well (they aren't in the ranch house style that became popular in the '60s). The short row of 4-plexes where we live was built in the '70s and, except for an apartment complex to our north, appears to be the newest construction in the neighborhood. These houses are small brick affairs; our split-level unit may actually have more square footage than they do. Some appear to have basements, though, which would of course add to their living space. All have one-car garages. With very few exceptions, and allowing for later remodeling such as converted garages or added rooms, every house on the same side of each street appears to share exactly the same floorplan--this based on what I can observe from the street. The neighborhood elementary school (on the west side of the creek but accessible via a footbridge) and a new hospital are within easy walking distance; but the nearest full-service grocery store, less than a mile away as the crow flies, is a two-mile trip by car. (Of course, things may have been very different when this neighborhood was first built.)

In short: Based on what little I know about the post-WWII rise of suburbia, this little neighborhood is something like a remnant of that time; thus, it also contains in it the amino acids of second- and third-generation iterations of the 'burbs. For better and for worse, this is an early manifestation of how we collectively--which is to say, we as individuals, as developers, as governments--have assumed people have wanted to live for the past 60 years. Over the past 20 years or so, those assumptions have begun to change for all sorts of reasons; I suspect that our present home mortgage crisis will accelerate those changes, and (speaking for myself) for the better, though I say that mostly for reasons that have little to do with mortgages.

That said, though, it's easy to see some of the appeal of such a place when compared to, say, the rowhouses of the late-19th and early 20th centuries. I have never before lived in a quieter neighborhood. Because of the street layout, there's no through traffic; judging from the number of newspapers I see in the driveways, most people who live here are older and/or more settled. I often wonder if some of the residents are original to the neighborhood. The yards aren't large, but I can only imagine how they must have looked to people who hadn't had yards before moving here. The houses here may be small, but their yards serve as extensions of their living spaces. Suburbia clearly speaks to something in us as individuals, even if its responses are . . . well, let's just say it: even if its responses are not always ultimately in our collective best interest. Striking that balance in our living/working/playing spaces between what we want as individuals and what is sustainable and affordable for communities is the great land-use debate facing us in the decades to come.

So: Here we are, and there you are. More to come, as time permits.


R. Sherman said...

I assume, and hope, this is the new "A Stretch Of River" series. I am sure it will be a worthy successor, if I'm not making assumptions. (See my comment to your post above, which I read first.)


John B. said...


You assume correctly. I can't say just now how many posts will come out of this place, but we'll give it a go.

Thanks for stopping by.