Does your neighborhood still matter?

How might the muse have visited Robert Frost, had the poet lived on Bainbridge Island?

Indeed, one sees a bit less charm in the verse, “Good vegetated buffers make good neighbors.”

Yet the same questions that occupied the author of “Mending Wall” – what is it that brings us together, what keeps us apart – is as pertinent here as in Frost’s imaginary milieu. And it has been on the mind of longtime islander Chuck MacLearnsberry, who hosted an informal chat on the subject with community leaders Monday.

To be sure, our contemporary lifestyle makes the challenges to our sense of neighborhood legion. With modern transportation, households needn’t be as self-sustaining (or as symbiotic with those nearby) as was once true. (Need sundries? A time- and resource-wasting trek to Silverdale is almost expected.) Television remains the medium by which a million people can hear the same joke at the same time, yet still feel lonely. And in the Internet age, we may carry on regular correspondence with faceless people half a world away, but still not know the names of the folks two doors down.

Given these realities, Chuck asked this week: Is there still a place for the concept of “neighborhood”?

So we, in turn, pose the question to readers. And we’re not talking about “community associations,” which don’t seem to find much purpose until someone tries to build something down the street. What we’re talking about is a more traditional, homespun concept – neighborliness – that transcends political issues and establishes ties between folks who, by design or by chance, live in close proximity to one another. It’s about mutual help and support. Familial friendships. Binding ties.

We can think of a few examples. Seabold folk have maintained an active social club for years, and hold monthly potlucks. We believe the denizens of Point Monroe still host a popular summer picnic. In the Sands Road area, the neighbors publish their own phone directory – identifying each other by residence, sometimes even by who drives which car.

Port Madison folk banded together after Sept. 11,

setting up a telephone tree to share resources should the unthinkable repeat itself. Hawley Way residents followed that with a social of their own, re-establishing neighborhood ties.

We’d like to believe there are a hundred more examples out there we don’t know about – the connections between our households nourish our community spirit, and may serve more practical ends with the uncertainty of our times.

For those who care about our neighborhoods, Chuck will continue to explore the issue through informal meetings this spring. Another good starting point might be better designation of where our neighborhoods are. Perhaps the city and the historical society could partner for informational signage – using the excellent markers in Port Madison and Fort Ward as examples – with a few lines on when each area was founded. (As Chuck notes, some of our neighborhoods date back 150 years – bet you don’t know which ones!)

In the meantime, does your neighborhood hold an annual get-together? Does the idea of “neighborhood” even matter anymore? If you think it does, join the cause – call Chuck (842-5514) or the mayor’s office (780-2545) and let them know your thoughts. Or drop us a line. We want to know which neighborhoods still consider themselves such – and what they do to sustain their identity.

We belive good neighbors will hack a few trails through those buffers, and leave some of those walls unmended.

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