There is much discussion about our urban environment with ideas like the Transition Town and Livable Streets movements, but are you considering how your neighborhood should move forward.
A neighbor of mine expressed his disappointment with life in Houston, so his idea for a solution was to move to somewhere else. Another neighbor place an sign his yard in anger at the mayor when a leak sprung up near his home. All of us feel dissatisfaction at times with our lives in a neighborhood, but what do we do about it that is positive? The water line leak is becoming common in my neighborhood, because we probably need new pipes in my older area. Does the sign blaming the mayor help? By itself no. We need infrastructure improvement; we do not have the funds to carry out such work; and we have no will for a stimulus or increased taxes. When it comes to being upset with life in Houston, I think of the difference between the German and English languages describe the concept of “boring”. In English, we find the root of being bored as being out of our control, while in German, the emphasis is placed on the individual, so he can change the situation. Now English speakers do accept a situation can be changed, and German speakers do see situations as hopeless, but we often fail to see that our attitude can change the environment.
Have you noticed that more people are bicycling? I know that along one stretch of Briar Forest that I run into large groups of bicyclist sharing the roads with cars. We have some streets with bicycle lanes, which are designed for the riders to go in single file. They hardly ever ride single file. I see the bikes chained near a bus spot, and bikes loaded onto the front of the buses. I see more neighbors taking the bus to work. I also know other neighbors who will never give up their cars. Life in Houston has been designed around the car. I do find the idea positive that we are looking to lead the way with electric cars. I find our development of light rail lacking. Why did they not build a light rail line along the Westpark Tollway when that roadway was built? That was the location of the old train tracks. I read an article where a politician wants to develop alternative means of transportation but he was not too concerned with all of the means, since he felt that it was not practical for his area. I wonder how often our leaders in Houston realize that some means of transportation, such as walking, are not done, since they are not always piratical (I frequently walk different areas of Houston, and I can tell you that crossing some major streets is not always easy). Sometimes we have have to assume that if we build it they will come; make it easier to walk or bike in Houston, and these modes of transport will increase.
Transportation is one factor influencing the quality of life in neighborhoods, but having a vibrant community life may be the better goal. This past week brought a few neighbors to my garden asking about the vegetables. I have always grown vegetables because I discovered that my children will eat more varieties when we grow them. My neighbors responded in a primarily positive fashion, thinking it wise to be growing my own in this economy. That is not my reason though; I want healthy vegetables to be part of my diet, and I like to garden. I was reminded how one acquantince was forced out of the neighborhood next to mine when he began his urban farm. He was renting his home, and the landlord received pressure from the local homeowners association to prevent the urban farm activities. Oddly enough, the structure for the farm was left in place when he moved out, and now the new resident is planting vegetables again. My beds are not purely vegetables, nor are the beds designed in a more urban farm style, so I have not seen opposition yet. What my passion has done is open up discussions. My neighbors and I are discussing our gardens; we are discussing vegetables; and we are discussing recipes. This vegetable garden has sparked the beginnings of a more vibrant community life by helping a conversation to start. Other passions may help other interactions, leading to a more interactive life.
Here I will end my rambling to come to the point. As we have seen our home values drop, and making ends meet a little harder, we should consider our communities and lifestyles. A vibrant community will make others wish to live there, which increases the value of the homes. Being angry does not help if you have no way to channel that emotion into something constructive. Communities will not thrive unless we express our individual passions in our own little part of the world. Then we need to be open to engage. Do a green home conversion. Create a vegetable garden. Rebuild the facade of your home. Take a walk. Go for a bicycle ride. Then talk about it. Tell others why you are doing what you do. Explain that sidewalks would really help you and your children be safe on your walks (many neighborhoods do not have sidewalks, and I have to take the stroller on the street). Over time better communities will ensue, but this must begin with something small, passionate at home.