(Spoiler alert: I don't know)
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?
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
i have nothing helpful to add, I am afraid, but god bless you for trying 🤍
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.