One of the most highly prized values of our nation is “rugged individualism” and nowhere is this more apparent than in our very own city – Phoenix. Many of us have come here to get away from our old tired communities and to start life anew. Maybe it’s because of our bad experiences with the communities we grew up in that we seem to shun any semblance of community in our newly-adopted city.
But where does that leave us rugged individuals? Surely we can’t rely wholly on ourselves? Surely there are times we need
help from others. Who do you call on when you need someone to watch your kids for an afternoon as you tend to some work emergency? Or if
you’re going out of town for a few days and you need someone to watch your cats? Yes you can hire someone to do these things and be, as
always, self-reliant. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could call on your community for help?
This is a difficult question for a city that is experienced mostly through sealed, air-conditioned vehicles with tinted windows. We drive to our grocery store, to the coffee shop, even to go hiking. We start out alone in our cars and end up alone in our cars even if our destination is to go out and be with other people. This in contrast with cities that are designed for public transportation or walking which are conducive to human contact and interaction.
The sacred individual is staunchly protected even on the neighborhood scale in Phoenix where we’re supposed to drive into our garages and enter our homes never having to physically share the open air with our neighbors. And if we do feel like stepping out and soaking in the sun? We still don’t have to lock eyes with anyone thanks to our highly effective 8 foot solid block fences. Block fences are great for privacy but they’re also great for keeping community out of your life. Ever think of all the great interactions that could happen with your neighbors were block fences a little more porous, shorter or completely gone? For more on this and other community-killing design strategies read Architecture of Fear.
The reason I remind us of these questions is to implore the rugged individuals of Phoenix to give community another chance. We’ve over-corrected for problems like lack of privacy and security concerns. In fact, the most secure neighborhoods are where the neighbors watch out for each other. In my last neighborhood association meeting, the Community Action Officer told us that criminals avoid neighborhoods where residents walk the streets and actually talk to one another. No criminal likes it when a resident says hello to him. The idea of security that comes from an 8 foot block fence is really just an illusion. Security comes from residents engaging with their neighborhoods and interacting with their neighbors, not being closed off in their fenced homes. It turns out you can prevent crime in your neighborhood and hence in your own home so much more effectively as a community than as an individual.
One criticism community-seekers in Phoenix face is that Phoenix is different from other American cities. It’s never going to be New York City or San Francisco or Chicago where communities have naturally formed over time. Yes, this is true. But this doesn’t mean that the need for community in Phoenix doesn’t exist. The question is, what are ways we can form community that are appropriate for our unique desert-city comprised of highly independent people?
Here are a few ideas (by no means all-inclusive, but just a start):
1. Shop/eat/drink at local establishments
2. Talk to people when you’re out and about
3. Try taking the light rail or the bus sometime
4. Walk around your neighborhood – a great way to get exercise and get to know your neighborhood.
5. Hang out on your front porch more often
6. Attend your neighborhood association meetings – an easy way to get to know your neighbors
7. Use the canals to bike and walk
8. Offer to help those you want to include in your community
9. Accept help from those you want to include in your community
10. Attend community events
Have more ideas? Please share by leaving a comment!Tags: architecture of fear, community, nan ellin, neighborhood design, phoenix, rugged individualism, support local business