I was just reading a book written by Max Lerner in 1957 called “America as a Civilization,” in which he wonders not if “the small town can be rehabilitated,” but what will evolve in America “to replace it.”
In the age of virtual community, Lerner’s work is considered pretty prescient. But I can’t help but think that nothing, truly, can replace the physicality of an actual community in which people really live. And while a small town may not be possible, or even desirable for everyone in America, I think a sense of neighborhood may just be a crucial component to healthy living.
While I think my wife and I get some sense of community in our building in the East Village, I don’t quite get a feeling of neighborhood, here. Not enough, anyway.
So the decision has been made to move to Brooklyn where, at least as far as we can tell, we’ll have enough friends in a ten-block radius to experience something a lot closer to community than we’ve had in Manhattan – at least in the places here that we’ve been able to afford.
Sure, we could join something here that would give us some sense of community – a synagogue, a YMCA, or, if and when we have kids, the local PTA – but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when we live somewhere so very strollable that we run into friends whenever we go out, feel delighted to join the local food co-op, and actually ponder taking part in a softball game.
For no matter how evolved we get, and however many people we’ll be able to interact with on some level thanks to the instant messaging, email, and bbs universe, I think having a posse from the hood may be something uniquely valuable, and ultimately irreplaceable.