thoughts about current reading.

I’ve been in the middle of the Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities for a while now. I’m savoring it because I find it so fascinating. Her chapters on the uses of sidewalks, and her discussions about what make neighborhoods healthy could really be useful for those in my current city who want to create community but get caught in the trap of doing it easy-style. We create communities based on taste, style, and age, rather than who actually lives in our neighborhood. I find the idea of all these community-seekers really noble. I’m one of them. Do you know what I’m talking about? We leave our old homes and we want something better for ourselves. It’s good that people value community. However, I have to say I am irked sometimes because there’s something un-local, un-diverse, dare I say, contrived about the way many communities work here. Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many of us are transplants, so that authentic culture is not necessarily connected to local places and spaces any more (though I’m not excluding that as a future possibility). Or maybe it’s that we impose what we think is best onto a town that was already ensconced in its own traditions without stopping to ask if we’re being self-righteous? I’m talking about the specific culture of Portland here. It kind of reminds me of tracking in high school, where most of the classes were divided on race/class lines. There’s a loose network here, but it isn’t self-aware enough about who it includes or excludes. I hope this doesn’t sound hateful. I’m grateful for what it is. But it could be better. And I’m making a distinction between “friends” and “community”. Anyhow, it’s a complicated issue. I could probably go on for ages. On Mississippi street, there are few places where people of different ilks meet together. Why is that? I’m saying we should think about that. Maybe we should have more thoughtful public space in a neighborhood with so much tension between old/new, young/old, black/white, poor/rich residents? Maybe we should have a place where teenagers and adults hang out together? As I’ve said before, they can put a man on the moon but they can’t figure out some city planning that actually brings people together instead of dividing them?
Am I bemoaning a lack of tradition? A lack of respect? Maybe. I know we’re all looking for “home” but I don’t know how to authentically get it, either. And I’m not speaking across the board, either. I just don’t think you have to be an activist to know your neighbors and rely on them. Jacobs talks about creating the right distance between yourself and your community…sort of knowing that they’re there in emergencies but not needing to have them totally involved in your life. Interesting.
Anyway, the way she described a healthy neighborhood just made me feel great. A great ideal.
The more I read about subjects I’m interested in, the more surprised I am by the fact that other people have thought about things the way I have. Of course, it’s a little embarassing with Jane Jacobs. I have the feeling that it’s one of those books that everyone else already read and everyone else already has opinions about…the right opinions.
There are some organizations that are striking my fancy lately in the same way also. Place Matters is this amazing organization. It’s fighting for the values I hold the most dear. As is The Cornerstones Project which is really similar except in New Orleans. Yay.
In other reading: I’m also re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light which is soooooo good. Will I ever approach anything like that fluid talent? I’m reading Lonesome Dove, too. There’s also a couple books I’m dipping into for a story I’m doing research for. I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for to research it, which might be a good thing because it means that I’ve got something NEW going on.
Anyway, apologies for my rambly-ness.


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