patrolling the hood

I have theories that are growing in size from small notions to fodder for a grassroots movement. There’s been major upheaval in our backyard as a garage is being installed, so I’ve been focusing my gardening energies to the front. As I’ve been investing time there, instead of hiding in the back protected by a 6ft high fence, I’ve become a convert to the front porch-sitting habits from ages past.

Its amazing how much I see when I’m out there: crazy custody fights, creepy old men walking cats on leashes, new neighbors out for a stroll, a couple who pulled their car over to refill their rum & cokes in the trunk and then drive away(I called the cops on that one), peddlers trying to sell their stolen goods, political surveyors, kids who’ve lost their way and the normal bunch of friendly folks getting fresh air or exercise. What a window into our world!

My Dad’s theory, quickly becoming my own, is that around the introduction of the t.v. neighborhoods changed. People closed in their open porches with glass, put up fences and shrunk into themselves in massive numbers. Unwittingly, we became a culture of window watchers, content on keeping our contact with the outside world to a minimum or limited to a glowing electronic box. Lost became the accountability of neighbors tending their yards or sitting on the porches keeping a pulse on the community and those around them. Kids stopped entertaining themselves, preferring blank stares universal to all media intakers(mind you, my own kids are displaying this very behavior as I type this). We are much more of a private and individualistic society now.

Lest I become over nostalgic about times gone by, I know it was far from perfect back then. Was it really safer? Hard to say. . .but in the end, when tend my garden out front, I feel connected not only to the creation around me, but also the place where we live. And I’d like to think my meager investment of free time spent beautifying our tiny plot of easement is helping build bridges of grace to passersby. . . as well as lowering hooligan activity, at least in the summer and during the day that is.


(will our easement look this good someday? gotta have dreams. thanks goes to Jim Handtmann for the garden above-actually its his neighbors’ that he designed and tends–this and his own front garden inspired the majority of his block to do the same, many more pictures are available on his website.)

2 thoughts on “patrolling the hood

  1. my dad talks about the difference between the back deck and the front stoop all the time. being a walker, he tries to push past those tendencies, but worries that, especially here in the northwest, people will be put off by small talk because they tend to be so private. i always find that a natural disaster helps with small talk 🙂 in buffalo, i met all my neighbors when we helped push drivers out of immense snow banks…

  2. I’m usually an eye-contact-avoider/ground watcher so this is a stretch for me. And when I do make the effort it is returned almost 80% of the time. I wonder if we sometimes think we’d rather be private but secretly we’re really long for a more family-like community.

    Minus the bad parts of disaster, your right, it can be a real unifier. Bonded by a common denominator. Our power went out for a couple days last summer and people I never knew existed crawled out from under rocks to find out what was happening, who’s food was going bad and who heard what.

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