Self-Segregating?: Part 2
Intimacy: “an emotional state in which two persons, or a group, have a sense of commonality, of sharing, and security.” ~Wong H.
I recall stories from my grandfather about his time serving during WWII and what it was like to finally own a house across the street from a white family.
It was one of the indicators that he’d secured part of the American Dream.
No one burned a cross on the lawn nor called him the n-word, and he didn’t call them “crackas”. Their children knew one another, played together and the block shared a collective commitment for keeping eyes out on one another’s property. There was a connection. Who knows what the political affiliations were? I was raised on that block, and in that household, situated among a community of families that fused closer together after the race riots in Detroit…years before my birth.
I didn’t have that in my current neighborhood, and I became sick, when for the first time I thought that perhaps it was because of my skin color. I stopped using the Facebook group and the NextDoor app immediately. Feelings would chill my spirit like a cold northeastern wind anytime I read the comment sections. Somehow, they had morphed into a vivid and revelatory snapshot of what truly lay beneath the trimmed lawns, group fitness class chatter and local baseball game fellowship. The division between who’s who in the neighborhood became larger and more pronounced.
Neighborhood Intimacy, Pocket neighborhoods and Cohousing
According to a study called “Neighborhood Intimacy as Perceived by Women in Urban Areas and it’s Association with Personal and Social Network Characteristics in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 150 married women were sampled and four main categories were used to build a model: education level, self-rated health, individual social network size and length of residence. They asked them questions about their feelings regarding their community. Surprisingly, the higher the educational attainment, the more dissatisfied women were with the neighborhood intimacy level in their urban (internationally based) neighborhoods. I wondered if I were experiencing something similar now that I had exchanged my urban lifestyle for the burbs.
Simply riding through the neighborhood during election season, you could clearly demark the sections: Trumpists, Liberals, etc.
First, I had certain expectations during the 7 years that I’d lived in the community. After all, I hadn’t chosen to move out of the city to feel more isolated, or to have an income/investment property. I chose that particular neighborhood for the superior performance public schools, the vibrant way children rode their bikes, the way moms walked and chatted with one another and the superfluous amount of swimming pools. As time passed, my connections never clicked with those inside my section of the cul-de-sac. Since my youngest child is approaching the middle years, I figured now was the time to begin searching for a new place.
Pocket neighborhoods have become a solution for some people who feel lost or disconnected in a typical community. (You can read more about pocket neighborhoods in a 2019 article written for Forbes here.) What I discovered through Facebook and the NextDoor app, was that my community of 7 years operated like a pocket neighborhood for those who’d chosen commitment to certain political groups and ideologies. Some of which included the belief that melanin made you predisposed to certain behaviors. Additionally, simply riding through the area during election season, you could clearly demark the sections: Trumpists, Liberal, etc. Although there was no immediate access to a common area per section, you could witness lawn chair round ups on a weekly basis.
I desperately wanted a pocket neighborhood to claim as my own.
Cohousing is another type of lifestyle that has seen an uptick in popularity over the past 9 years. It originated in Denmark in the 1970s (more on that research is here) and is reflected in what we see happening in the tiny home markets. Austin, Texas, for example, has a growing community of tiny home villages where independent structures with shared amenities and lifestyle are available. During a conversation with friends of mine who are physicians in the field of oncology, the desire to cohabitate with like minded groups of people in philosophy and shared social spaces provides the respite, encouragement and support many are missing. They have decided to tap the shoulders of family and non family, purchase townhomes in groups, knock out the fence and collaborate on gardening, childcare and rotating cooking duties. Like me, some residents are transplants from another state or have little or no biological family nearby and seek to simplify life. We see it in the increasing number of land purchases and the establishment of farms among minority races.
Are we, as a nation, self-segregating?
My Relocation Story
After my emotions tempered, and my fears were waylaid by time, I opted to move and seek a place within a community where I had a greater number of well established friends, connections and would more likely encounter increased diversity of thoughts, beliefs, shopping habits and political views. (I am significantly distanced from chain restaurants. whew!) For my search, I began using census data and real estate site descriptions.
My last day in the old house was a surprise. Particularly with a visit from across the street. My former neighbor (who is never seen without perfectly coifed hair) beelined toward me, fresh faced and hair still wet from her shower. I was a sweaty hot mess and she didn’t seem to care as she threw her arms around me. Taken by surprise, I became teary eyed.
“You’re moving.” She sounded shocked, disappointed and hesitant.
“Yes. Just downsizing.” I said
“I had to come say bye. Hug you. Sorry about my wet hair. I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch you and let you know you have been a fantastic neighbor. I will miss your smile and your beautiful children.” She was emphatic.
Perhaps the chance for greater neighborhood intimacy on that block had been available… I’d just missed the forest because of the trees.
You can read my experience in part 1, Community, Connection, Relocation, below.