It can mean everything or it can mean nothing depending on who has defined what it means for your neighborhood. If you ask your neighbors what they want they will undoubtedly produce a list of things – like better sidewalks and curbs, faster police and fire response, less vandalism and fewer stray dogs and feral cats. Others want coffee shops, retail stores, bike trails, community gardens, or entertainment and recreational centers, even wifi. Its true these things can make life in the neighborhood more enjoyable, more convenient and even healthier but what these things really do is create a sense of place.
A place where people can gather, can meet, share ideas and get to know one another. These environments are essential for our socialization. In urban neighborhoods many of the things that used to bring us together – like downtown shopping districts, neighborhood schools, mom and pop stores, park and recreational centers have been shut down, moved on or are under funded. Citizens have to deal with aging infrastructure, higher taxes and now bear the responsibility of maintaining alleyways, sidewalks and curbs or bringing their 100 year old homes into code compliance of new home standards.
Quality of Life means a lot of things. It involves almost everything that influences a neighborhood from government regulations and ordinances, variety of housing stock, ratio of rental property to home ownership, household incomes, type of schools, cultural diversity, park services, youth programs, leadership and resident accountability. If you don’t have the recipe – that can be a tough cake to bake. Unfortunately, there isn’t a recipe that fits every neighborhood or maybe any neighborhood.
You can have meetings and sounding sessions that may help exposure the most pressing issues, concerns or trends but any long term solutions come from neighbors getting to know one another. Developing lines of communication and trust with government, civic organizations and surrounding neighborhoods. It comes from creating a common sense of purpose about why we live here and why it is important that we learn to work together toward common goals. Its about believing in who we are and that what we do matters. Creating those – Gathering Places – is the first step in moving those types of conversations from small groups on our front porches to engaging the greater community. Sharing our ideas and cultures. Developing trust and friendships. Working on projects together, engaging our youth and our government and finding ways we can work together to make our communities better.