(Cross-posted from the Neighbors Project blog)I'm moving out of my current apartment at the end of the month. When I go, the next people to live here will be paying literally almost twice as much as I currently pay in rent. My neighborhood -- on the border of Wicker Park and the Ukranian Village in Chicago -- is being gentrified. I feel weirdly responsible, even in my leaving of the place. Since I don't have any control over the management company, I'm not really doing anything, per se; but as it turns out, that's exactly the problem.
Moving to a new neighborhood does not guarantee that you will be welcomed into the existing community -- especially when the neighborhood in question is going through large-scale change. I was reminded of this fact this morning while researching today's Neighbor News post. I came across this story from Pittsburgh, where a team of young urban farmers has created a working farm in one of the poorer areas of the city, bordered by one of its most infamous ghettos, The Hill. One of these people articulated quite nicely the idea that first got me involved with Neighbors Project last fall: "We're aware we didn't grow up in the Hill," she said. "We have to earn a place here."
When anyone, young or old, moves to a new neighborhood, they become agents of change. There will be things that we make worse for some people, and things that we make better for others. Few people can claim to wield the power of a developer or city councilman; indeed, our impact on a new neighborhood, as individuals, is small, but it is still important. The choice that we are each presented with is: will I merely pass through this neighborhood, or will I earn a place here?
I'll let you in on an embarrassing little secret: I never really earned a place in the community that I'm moving away from. I had originally intended to stay longer than I'm going to wind up staying, so I'd just assumed I'd get more involved in the future. I heard about neighborhood meetings and saw people out on their stoops, but I was always in a hurry. Even working closely with a group like Neighbors Project, it was easy to feel too busy to engage with my own block.
And now I can't help but wonder if, had I gotten to know the people living around me, I might have been able to find a way to keep my apartment affordable. Maybe one of my neighbors has a relative or a friend moving to town, and I could have re-signed my lease and subletted the apartment. It's a pretty fruitless line of thinking, really, since the past is the past and the rent has already been hiked. Still, it's disturbing to see how much impact a lack of effort can have, and it's made me remember why it's important to slow down and engage with my surroundings.
When you move to a neighborhood, and are immersed in a new community, remember that doing nothing within that community is doing something.
I wrote this post recently for the blog of Neighbors Project, a nonprofit that I've become more and more involved with since I first reported on it a year ago. I've been working for NP over the summer and recently joined the National Board of Directors, and I figured that, since I can put a little of the blame on NP for the lack of posts on Where, I'd cross-post to share a bit of what I've been up to. As for Where, there are big changes on the horizon. More on that later. For now, get out and earn your place in your neighborhood.