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Apr 5, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

Whenever I start thinking about how to build community, I end up thinking about how to end capitalism and colonialism. It's hard to have strong community and roots when your society is built on constant mobility. If you live in the sticks (as I grew up, and as I live now), you expect your kids to leave, enjoy good college towns and big cities. Every member of your family gets into a different line of work, and moves where the jobs are. The only way to stay in touch with family and friends, if Zoom isn't enough for you (and I should hope it is not), is to drive and fly and sully the environment in the process, spewing carbon all the way.

Or maybe they stay in one place, as some in my family, while the place changes around them—and they can no longer afford to rent there. They live in cars.

Even if your family has sat on a chunk of land for a few generations, chances are your forbears murdered someone to acquire that chunk of land. How are we to build continuity and community out of bloodshed?

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All of this is so important and needs its own book pretty much. I entirely agree with you, and that last question is one I struggle with all the time. I think my partial, initial thought is that that particular question is one I've grappled with on and off here for a long time. The destruction of community and connection and trust in particular have been broken under the heel of the powerful and resource-hoarding for centuries beyond count, and my feeling is that it was imported to North and South America once it had almost completely crushed populations and their traditional life ways almost beyond memory.

I guess the first step is recognizing that -- recognizing that the system that fractures communities is larger and older than almost any of us can grasp -- so that we can then figure out how to start dismantling it in turn. Which probably takes generations of work.

The Dalai Lama addressed this in a book he co-wrote with an American psychiatrist called "The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World" where they talked about community, neighborliness, and trust broken in places like Rwanda and Yugoslavia, both horrific civil wars that defined the 1990s; and what is being done to repair the damage as far as it can be repaired. None of their methods or mechanisms feel like enough to me but maybe the only "enough" is time. How to stop any of it happening again, though? There was no answer to that.

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Apr 6, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

I find some inspiration in the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, who, like the Dalai Lama, experienced this stuff directly. But I grew up on land that used to be Kalapooia, and I now live on land that might have been Paiute at one time, and my English ancestors invaded my Irish ancestors, and they all invaded my Cherokee ancestors' lands, and my slave-owning ancestor I just learned existed might have owned, or raped, my African-American ancestor I also just learned existed. Being an American is confusing.

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It truly is! On my mom's side I'm most connected to my Montana homesteader ancestors and grappling with what it means to be a beneficiary of land theft from several tribes (yet not the owner of that land who could have the option to give it back) along with French ancestors who came here in the 1600s and the usual dash of more recent Scots-Irish; but my father was an exile from the Soviet Union.

I suspect that what we struggle with is a sense of responsibility for both who we are and our ancestors' actions, but we have no traditions or elders who could help teach us or guide us through knowing how to deal with that reality, so are trying to figure it out in the dark.

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Apr 4, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

I appreciate these efforts to parse your own interest in the dynamics and infrastructure of vital and healthy communities from the abstract (and as you say, sometimes cliched or idealized) notion of "community." Even if this won't address the larger challenge, I wonder if it might feel helpful to identify another term that captures the "community" element of what you write about here. I can't help feeling that this has a lot to do with scale; not just appropriate level, but proper sensitivity to it. The New York Times readership doesn't feel like a community, even if it might be a culture. But your blog here does. Yet even your intimate blog with its loyal readers lacks the physicality and localness of your town in Montana.

Walking is a good metaphor for a low-to-midrange of scale when it comes to movement (itself an elemental human activity and one of the building blocks for everything else we do). It's not crawling or sitting or shifting around, nor is it running or biking or driving. It gets you places, but it also doesn't have to, and it accommodates a range of social activities and levels of speed. It's inherently local without being confining.

I spent the vast majority of my life in walkable neighborhoods in or next to the same midsize community (New Haven, CT.) which despite its many problems and own messed up urban planning history, and bizarre relationship with Yale, has some of those "sticky" attributes you allude to. I think part of the reason I got stuck there so long is the large amount of social capital I managed to build up over the decades, with very modest effort and even more modest accomplishments, and much of this was facilitated by always being out and about, walking around. I've never owned a car. Two months ago I moved to Guelph, Ontario for a graduate program, which people tell me is one of the "better" cities around here. But it's surprisingly hard to build up social capital again from scratch.

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I love this idea of finding another word to capture the "community" element that I am/we are trying to describe, and the point about the difference between a culture and a community. That's a really important distinction I hadn't considered before. And I wonder if there's a lot of correlation with scale?

I appreciate the words about the blog here! And you are right -- my physical community (as I'm sure is true of most others) is almost a completely different life, even as I share slices of that life here.

This feels like a mission statement for why walking is so awesome: "It gets you places, but it also doesn't have to."

It really is hard to build social capital up from scratch. In my town I feel like it's slightly more accessible for a certain type of person because there are so many non-profits to get involved with. But what if you don't want to volunteer for a non-profit? And don't have kids in the school? Suddenly it's more difficult. I found that in New York. It was really hard for us to find people to spend time with, or for our kids to spend time with (partly because I ended up homeschooling them but even before that, people were scheduled and busy and didn't just randomly play very much). There was an episode of Reframing Rural where a sociologist talked about the need for rural communities to reach out to newcomers, invite them over for dinner, that kind of thing. To help people integrate into the community if they want to. I liked that and thought it was a good point. So often one hears complaints about people moving in and not understanding a place, but how much effort do we put into helping them understand us?

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Apr 5, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

Local newspapers, and their demise in many locales, also influences that latter bit. I moved from a mid-sized city to the woods fringing a small town, combo of rural and tourist/retiree-oriented, and growing fast. I am a devoted walker. But in terms of engaging with the local community, it has been reading and writing for the newspaper that makes the difference.

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This is so true and I'm really glad you brought it up -- and are reading and writing for the newspaper! It's something I kind of want to mention in the [possible] third installment of this, as there are two local columnists and one semi-local who write for local papers and add a lot to the community's social resilience; AND I'm consistently impressed with the kind of reporting our local daily paper does one local stories, especially big ones like Covid because it's a very conservative area and they bend themselves double finding the stories that can actually mean something to the majority of our local population.

Anyway, what I mean is, yes please to local news!

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founding

Each time I read this (this is the third time) I have a new thought. Mauybe I should keep coming back and leaving new comments like a crazy-person.

Anyway - this was the thought I had the first time round:

"Anyway, the two things I knew were most important to me were education—specifically math and public schools—and walking/walkability."

What if they became one thing?

I know your essay is making a case for walking being a lesson in itself and a tool for weaving community. But what if it was a tool for teaching as well? As in, specifically? Building a math lesson into the route (or an [insert other option] lesson) in a super-intentional way - as an attempt to prove to everyone that we learn things better when we're (a) physically active and (b) experiencing them in person, figuratively or otherwise? (See : Annie Murphy Paul's points about the non-brain body being an integral part of our cognition).

When I was at Uni studying Archaeology, we had to do assessed seminar presentations our in the streets of York. They are some of my strongest memories. Teaching a lesson about a place while *in the place* is an incredibly powerful thing. What if all education involved something similar - like walk-lessons?

Hunter-gatherer teaching. ;)

So anyway, that was my stream-of-consciousness when I read it the first time. I will be back with other thoughts later. Sorry.

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Apr 4, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

It's funny, because "peripatetic" technically means nomadic, which seems like the very opposite of what she's seeking here. But one of my first thoughts was how many of the great philosophers were big walkers, and how well walking flows with thinking. So why should big names like Thoreau have the monopoly on that?

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Yes! Why indeed?

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This reminds me of a Catalan TV show, a really excellent one, called "Merli", about a professor of philosophy who is brilliant at teaching young people and utterly hopeless at living a responsible adult life. He calls his class his "peripatetics" (same word in Catalan) because he teaches some of his lessons while out on a brisk, hyperactive walk with them...

(It's a great show, really funny and really blunt in a refreshingly honest way.)

Yes, the benefits of walking for thinking! Antonia's book notes it a number of times. But...it's rarely baked into modern educational practices, I think? It's just consigned to the realm of adult thinkers and business-folk experimenting with better ways of having meetings. But - what about the teenagers and kids, as well as those taking adult-education classes? All these amazing new tools allowing for outdoor tech, and they're never used to teach while on the move, except passively...

Makes me wonder what's being missed here by modern schooling.

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You guys are speaking my language! One of my biggest issues with math education -- probably most places in the world, though my knowledge is most about the U.S. -- is its lack of movement and hands-on learning. There are SO MANY opportunities to do this, but both parents and teachers were brought up in a system of drills and memorization and speed, and after 20 years of working in textbook publishing and studying school systems, all I've gotten is that it is incredibly difficult to dismantle that thinking, or even erode it. It has been done here and there. In James Levine's book "Get Up!" (https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781137278999/getup) he has chapters on "chair-release programs" he's done in workplaces, and then one on a major school overhaul he was consulted on. The changes were huge and the kids learned so much better when their entire day was designed to let them move when and how they felt like it. I suspect schools might be willing to experiment more if they weren't worried about backlash from parents.

What I find is that our school, and I'm sure others, abstracts math far too quickly, turning to worksheets and drills before kids can read and before they've had enough time using manipulatives (I love Cuisenaire rods in particular: https://www.hand2mind.com/glossary-of-hands-on-manipulatives/cuisenaire-rods) to get an embodied understanding of the way that math is simply a vocabulary for understanding relationships and patterns in the world. It drives me nuts and makes me very sad. Changing that mindset is incredibly hard, so now I focus on extra games with students themselves to build confidence and make math fun again.

You guys might both like Frank Garner's book "The Hand," which is about the evolution of the hand and its role in learning -- a good pairing for Annie Murphy Paul's book.

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Right on the heels of the Livingston Trails and Transport plan rollout (https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/77b892ce7e83472599568118c2f2cf05). One reason people move to town, where houses are very small, and mostly don't have attached garages, and often have teensy yards is because they want to be able to walk to shops and bars and restaurants. The big improvement we're all hoping on is rebuilding the bridge across the Yellowstone from Mayor's Landing to the River trail park -- it'll be pedestrian/bike only, which will be great.

I'm not a great community member right now because I'm still working full time and trying to write this book -- and also, because I have so many friends just a little older than I am that are retired, and very active volunteers. But community. If there's a reason I stayed here after the disaster that befell me my first year it's that you can count on the Livingston community. We've seen it these past 10 days as everyone has rallied around the family of our Sysco delivery man, who was killed by a grizzly while hunting sheds (only a couple of miles from our cabin. Not panicking about my Beloved, also a shed hunter, has been an exercise). Every restaurant and coffee shop in town has been donating a day's profits, the folks who know them are on grief/casserole duty. And so, grumpy as I get about the new rich people moving to town, our little town of bike riders and walkers and folks getting coffee at the same spots every morning (and only having public schools) always rallies in these situations.

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I think everyone who cares is a great community member ;) One of the reasons I wanted to write about what I do is that it feels like there's a specific time of community organizer model people see and expect everything to look like that. And I think, honestly, the one thing that really matters is showing up. Being there. What that looks like for everyone is going to be tremendously different, and throughout our lives it will be different (my kids are only barely old enough for me to start being a little more involved, for example).

The bike/ped committee I'm on is right in the midst of doing a deep dive on the city's transportation plan, and I have to say I'm impressed with Livingston's approach! Will bring it up at our next meeting -- I've had a really hard time persuading people to do the kinds of walking/biking audits that are truly necessary to understand the needs, but it sounds like Livingston got that done.

That shed hunting bear situation is so awful. I'm sorry. Glad -- and not surprised (having grown up mostly in the Gallatin Valley) -- that the community is turning out for his family. Just horribly heartbreaking.

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I think PCEC led the charge? There's probably a contact on the story map (I was so impressed by it) -- but if you need a name, let me know and I'll find out. See? Community building!

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You got it!

Maybe I'll see if we have something equivalent. I mean, there is great work being done but there isn't really a stand-in for having leadership walk these routes themselves. I love that story map, it's so good!

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Mar 29, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

(And I just barfed out a comment about not being able to say yes to everything that wound up being tangential to all this, so off it goes. 😆)

No, you don't have the time to say yes to everything, no one can.

"(Spoiler alert: I don't know)"

Hell if I know either. I am currently in an area which the NYT identified as a Republican bubble and the political hostility to people who are say, me, or any liberal, is quite high. Hard to get off the dime with a 'community' in that situation. We very much live in a world where lots of people are either dedicated to getting rid of people, or never allowing them in in the first place. Communities of anti-communities are doing bang-up business.

Don't even get me started on the lack of sidewalks in town. (The reason why: they don't want to pay for it. There is active hostility to people walking places. The bike lines are doing better because... the feds paid for it.)

elm

i have nothing helpful to add, I am afraid, but god bless you for trying 🤍

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When the "say yes" thing happened I think I was still in my late 20s -- young enough to think maybe I should try new things out of my comfort zone without thinking through whether those things made sense or not! It was a needed lesson and I'm glad to have it now because I have to say no a lot :)

"Communities of anti-communities are doing bang-up business." THIS. So much of this. It's something that needs to be talked about far more openly, not just in the context of a one-off school board meeting or the trucks with enormous angry flags driving around (had a couple pass me on the walk home this morning). How to be in community when others are determined to shatter it is an entirely different level, but also relates somehow to a community's resilience, and what that *means* for each of us (I still don't know but I think you can feel the edges of it sometimes).

Lack of sidewalks is a never-ending headache.

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Apr 4, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik

A lady ran for town council on the platform plank of developing a 20-year plan to build out the sidewalk system. This has gone nowhere. People just use the bike lanes, where there are bike lanes.

"How to be in community when others are determined to shatter it is an entirely different level, but also relates somehow to a community's resilience, and what that *means* for each of us (I still don't know but I think you can feel the edges of it sometimes)."

I think a lot of people just don't want [generic you] in a community. It's all about keeping other people out, and they'll maybe let you in if they have to.

Couple of lines from the Guardian:

"When I am on Twitter, I find myself hating everything and everyone – especially myself – wasting their lives arguing about nothing. I lose my ability to empathise, to see humanity beyond the avatars. Never am I more disconnected than when I am plugged in. Even those ostensibly on the same side find themselves locked into death spirals of disagreement."

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/03/twitter-birds-battles-digital-real-life

For the record, I can see the people behind the avatars, but the place is just resolutely hateful.

elm

that's before we get into this stay in your lane bullshit

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But walkers don't need lanes, my mind tells me ;) I don't know that that's helpful!

I just got out of a meeting this morning where we spent significant time discussing a section of bike/pedestrian path that has been stuck in limbo since the 1980s. It is so frustrating how much time some of these things can take, especially when widening a highway can happen in no time flat. But shifts take a long time to crack the foundations of the dominant paradigms. Accepting that seems inevitable, yet how much damage is done while we wait?

I've been struggling with the possibility of getting back on Twitter eventually, but I think you just convinced me I'm better off staying away!

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As a longtime resident of the Twin Cities, the Rondo neighborhood is a story I know pretty well. I believe, unfortunately, when we look with any sustained effort, these are the policies that occurred all over the country and the tragedy repeated itself over and over. Having grown up in WNY, Buffalo had one of the FINEST planned layouts for a city ever conceived. An Olmstead-designed parkway systems that made the Queen City connected throughout. When the interstate came, the easiest communities with no political capital were severed and the visionary parkway system was chopped up and destroyed. You cannot unring the bell. Hopefully the impact these policies and their impact will inform the future. When I am home in Buffalo and drive on the Kensington Expressway I look left and right and imagine what it must have been like.

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I went to college in St. Paul! I do like the Twin Cities quite a lot, and could see living there if I weren't so rooted to Montana.

You're absolutely right, cities all over the country were subject to the same policy. Peter Norton writes a lot about this in his book "Fighting Traffic." Until I read that, I really had no idea that the highways I drive on through cities large and small had displaced communities that had already been there -- and almost always Black communities. Amazingly, some places are removing those highways but it's an awfully daunting task. I'm following with interest the current conversation over options to repair some of the damage done to Rondo, as well as other places. In some it's easier because the highway is either elevated or at-level, but that canyon situation is a big one to grapple with.

Buffalo is really interesting. I mentioned it in my book due to this article and am curious how its future will unfold: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-real-buffalo-rises/

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Have just finished reading The White City. Much of what was done in the 20th century through the interjection of freeways in black neighborhoods was already underway at the turn of the 19th century through the deliberate placement of railroads. Much good historical research in that book.

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That sounds really interesting!

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Wow Antonia! I enjoyed the article about Buffalo. I have family still there and have my feelings for the homestead. I happen to even know one of the people in the story! While the content of the story was wonderful and personal for me, the writer has great flowing style and the whole article feels connected.

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I have lived all over and on both coasts and love the Twin Cities in so many ways. Buffalo is a place of incredible and squandered opportunities. One of the things I appreciate about the "midwestern outlook" here in the Twins is the willingness to adapt to change and to maintain things for the long-term. The development patterns in Buffalo were tragic. I will read the link and thanks. Having seen the Olmstead Parks in many American cities, I think that the layout and vision in Buffalo was probably his grandest vision ever realized and highway placement and politics destroyed them.

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Maybe we should all learn more about Buffalo.

I interviewed some community organizers and planners in the Twin Cities for a project a few years ago (about adding stops on the Green Line to underserved neighborhoods), and it turned out that many of the planners had gone to the same school that really emphasized the public good in city planning. I suspect that has a role in the approaches they're taking now.

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The Green Line has been a positive in the neighborhoods along the construction. I make a wild guess that you might have attended the Humphrey School at UofMN? Since you have an affection for the TwinCities I think you might enjoy (despite being familiar with the story) https://markdolan.substack.com/the-norman-conquest -- Sorry if that means I add to your TBR list.

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deletedMar 29, 2022Liked by Antonia Malchik
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My TBR list is never-ending but only because there are so many great things to read :) Looking forward to it!

It was Macalester that I went to, way back in the mid-90s.

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Wonderful school. I used to play boardgames at St. Clair Broiler (across the street) long long ago

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I waited tables at the St. Clair Broiler for two years :)

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That is great! When I first moved to Twin Cities I lived off of Snelling and used to play Scrabble there! It's an institution.

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It is! Fish Fry Fridays and Saturday morning family breakfast …I worked at Dunn Bros. for two years before that, both good places in the neighborhood!

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Family regulars at their fish fry in the past. I prefer Dunn Bros & Caribou for coffee. I read a story that says nationwide the most popular coffee chain in every state is Dunkin or Starbucks EXCEPT Minnesota. My wife has an uncle and aunt who were proud Macalester grads...fun

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