Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Housing Bubble: How Our Neighborhoods Affect Our Friendships

So I went for a walk around my neighborhood last night. We'd just gotten home from dinner and I had just enough time to walk the 1.2 mile loop around twice before a combination of dusk setting in and the Cubs game starting. It was a nice evening out, not like in Summer when going for a walk at 7:30 means coming home drenched in sweat from the unrelenting south Georgia heat and humidity. No, this was still what passes for Spring with the humidity not being oppressive and the heat relatively non-existant.

And with it being such a beautiful evening, there were other people out too in our middle class neighborhood filled with three and four bedroom houses and two car garages. There was the woman jogging, the husband and wife walking their dog and the guy riding his motorcycle. I couldn't tell if he'd just purchased it and was learning to ride or just out for a night ride, though I suspect it was the former because anyone out for a night ride would presumably not be riding in a residential neighborhood. There was also the family of one of my son's classmates outside playing together. In this instance, the dad was racing his 7-year old daughter down the street with her younger sister hold her arms outstretched to be the finish line, with mom cheering her daughter on while the puppy looked confused and wasn't sure who to chase after.

I enjoyed seeing so many people out enjoying their evening. But as I walked, I paid closer attention to the houses that I'd passed hundreds of times before. Much like my home, most of these homes didn't really have a front porch and those that did didn't have much room for more than a chair or two. There was no convenient gathering places for neighbors to get together and talk while watching their kids play in the front yard and waving to passersby on the street.

This thought has been kicking around in my head for a while. Really, ever since I read "How Friendships Change in Adulthood" in the Atlantic and this "How our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult" on Vox. The truth is, at least for me in my little corner of the universe, we've set up housing and    and recreational activities in a way that we can easily be isolated for much of the time. Even something like my son's baseball or soccer games requires a 15 minute drive to the park where it's just my wife, son and I in the car. We've basically designed our society to minimize chance encounters with anyone we don't know or don't want to interact with.

But bumping in to people, especially the same people, over and over is how friendships develop. Removing the opportunities, either through our housing design or land use or our own tendencies to keep to ourselves, takes away opportunities to meet new people, experience new things and have a more fulfilling life.

Rereading that last paragraph, it sounds lofty, especially for me who is quite content to sit inside on a nice Spring night and turn on a ballgame and make dumb jokes online. I'm not extroverted and it's often easier for me to just keep to myself and do the things I know I like. And there's something to be said for how, for many people, their online life is a rich and rewarding to them as offline life is to others. But we can and should strive to be a little better about at least knowing the people who live around us. Not just their names or the names of their kids, but about what's going on with them.

Then again, during my walks I have the familiar white cord stretching from my phone up to my ears with my earbuds in blocking out the world and my neighbors and potential friends so I can listen to a podcast about fantasy baseball.

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