After a month of social distancing, the KUA team is settling into our new normal. Aside from your standard working from home woes - hours within the same four walls, occasional server connectivity issues, and once-in-a-while video call interruptions by overzealous pets - we consider ourselves to be among the lucky ones. We have our health, a steady stream of projects, and perhaps most easily overlooked, we all live in “streetcar” neighborhoods throughout the city that are capable of providing some reprieve from the hours of isolation. Within a 10-minute walk, most of us are able to chat with neighbors across a picket fence, pass by a park, and pick up a to-go lunch at one of our local eateries offering window service - leaving us with a sense of community and belonging in a time where we’re required to be apart.
So that got us thinking, what is it about these older, in-town neighborhoods that makes them fertile ground for building community, particularly in a time of crisis? Why have we met more neighbors in the past month, than in the past several years of living on our street? Surely we didn’t all just decide to start walking our dogs, tending our gardens, and biking with our families. There must be something about the way these neighborhoods are built that makes these social interactions more likely.
Amidst the uncertainty and chaos, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pause, take notice, and reconsider our notions of the places where we live. For those of us privileged to live in these walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods, we should look closely at the physical characteristics that work together to encourage building social capital, and importantly, we also need to consider the social biases and policy decisions made over time that have determined who is able to live in our communities. We spend a lot of time thinking about “lovable” or “complete” neighborhoods at KUA, so we see this involuntary lifestyle change as a call to action: an opportunity to sit out on our front porches, front stoops, and balconies, observe the life on our streets with a fresh perspective, and reconsider our priorities for the future of our community.
As we are being forced to slow down and view our lives from the sidewalk rather than through a windshield, we are asking ourselves questions like: With all of the extra space on our roads these days, how can we rethink our streets to prioritize people? How have we benefited from walking to the corner grocer to get ever-coveted toilet paper among other daily needs, and how do we encourage more local, walk-up amenities in our community? What is it about our neighborhood that makes us want to walk another block on our afternoon strolls? What options do we have in our neighborhood for renting out portions of our home to make up for lost income during uncertain economic times, and how could that benefit others looking for affordable housing options?
In the next couple posts, we’ll share our thoughts on these questions. As you follow this mini-series, we invite you to take this opportunity to see your neighborhood with a fresh perspective.