Community and the "Good Life"

Our first house  ©Janet Allen
Our first house, a Cape Cod; even then gardening in the front yard!

Our first house was part of a very stable neighborhood. Many of the people were the original owners, having happily raised their families in these smallish, 50s-era homes.

The families in this neighborhood built their lives together; people knew each other and all their families.

yard  ©Janet Allen
Our yard from above

Our current house is in one of the first ring of suburbs around a city, our block being developed in the late 1930s and 1940s.

I suppose at the time the area was being developed, it seemed like the suburbs, but compared to today's sprawling suburbs with large, acre+ lots, it now seems quite city-like.

When we first moved there, the neighborhood still had a lot of its original owners, and so there were not as many young families with children. As these elderly neighbors began to move out, the neighborhood began to have a lot of young families.

Now, we're in another cycle: we're the older neighbors, and our age group is beginning to move out and younger families are moving in. But even though the pattern seems to be the same as in our first house, our cohort of formerly-young families were not the original owners and members of the neighborhood. We trickled in rather than starting the development themselves, and we were more diverse, more mobile than the original community, so there hasn't been as cohesive a feeling as apparently existed in our neighborhood's past.

A sense of community

Labor Day storm ©Janet Allen
The aftermath of the Labor Day storm

Oddly, the strongest sense of community we've ever felt was during the aftermath of a disaster: the derecho that tore through our area on Labor Day 1998. Our neighborhood was one of the hardest-hit in the area. It was a true disaster zone. Huge trees were toppled everywhere, including one that damaged all three of our cars in the driveway, totalling our van. We were without power for four days.

This brought out the best in people! Neighbors we had never previously had a conversation with came over to commiserate. A total stranger with a chain saw went through the neighborhood volunteering his help to anyone who needed it.

How wonderful it would be if every day were like this—minus the disaster part.

I think people are just too busy these days. One reason we're busy is that we're spending time shopping and taking care of our stuff or making money to buy more stuff, bigger houses, and bigger cars.

Participating in the larger community

HGCNY ©Janet Allen
Our HGCNY plant sale held in our driveway

It has been very rewarding for us to participate in our community. We enjoy the like-minded people involved in our favorite organizations: Habitat Gardening in Central New York and Edible Gardening CNY, and participated in some Northwest Earth Institute discussion groups. It's always nice to get to know people with similar interests and values.

We participate in various environmental organizations, such as the local Iroquois chapter of the Sierra Club, where we meet many fine, interesting people. John is also involved in community efforts to make Syracuse a bikeable and walkable city.

We also enjoy being with a somewhat more diverse group: our Toastmasters club, Savvy Speakers.

All in all, we most enjoy being with people who are active participants in our community!

Collaborative consumption

A different way to be part of a community is to share ownership of things. We haven't yet participated in any of these, but the concept of collaborative consumption is intriguing.

We'll be following this movement carefully since it blends community participation with a viable solution to the mountains of stuff we all create, some items of which we and most people use only infrequently.