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Creating A Social Community One Person At A Time

Updated on October 11, 2012
A map of the neighborhood
A map of the neighborhood | Source
Friendly Grove Park
Friendly Grove Park | Source
Friendly Grove Park
Friendly Grove Park | Source
Mission Creek Nature Trail
Mission Creek Nature Trail | Source
Bigelo Park
Bigelo Park | Source
San Francisco St. Bakery, the community center of the neighborhood
San Francisco St. Bakery, the community center of the neighborhood | Source
The main intersection in the neighborhood.
The main intersection in the neighborhood. | Source
Joy St. walkway; under construction.
Joy St. walkway; under construction. | Source
Bev wishing I would quit taking her picture
Bev wishing I would quit taking her picture | Source

I have written often about the neighborhood I grew up in. For twenty years I lived in what could only be described as a Utopian setting with many kids my age to play with and neighbors who cared about each other. Each summer there were barbeques on our block and whenever someone had a big chore they could count on their neighbors to chip in a helping hand.

There were no strangers in that area and if someone new moved in they could count on baked goods arriving on their door the same day as a way of saying welcome and we are glad that you are here. We kids would play our baseball games in the street and friends would sit on their porches to watch and cheer us on. Summer evenings were the best as everyone would come outside and visit over the fences or share a beer or a soda while talking about families, jobs, triumphs and failures. Gardening tips were shared, recipes were copied down, freshly-baked cookies were practically expected and yes, gossip was exchanged. It was a grand place to spend my childhood and in truth I have not experienced a similar atmosphere in the forty years since I left 18th & Monroe in Tacoma, Washington.

http://billybuc.hubpages.com/hub/A-Pleasant-Journey-Back-In-Time

Until now that is! Four months ago I moved to the Northeast Neighborhood of Olympia, Washington and to my surprise I found myself in a progressive area that seems determined to re-discover the old days of my youth. There is a wonderful sense of community here and quite frankly it feels a little like I am living in one of those old 50s TV shows.

This is all a bit hard for this hopeful cynic to absorb because I have watched the dismantling of the traditional neighborhood over the past few decades. With increased crime and drugs practically everywhere it seemed to me that many people were pulling up the draw bridge and protecting themselves at all cost and often that cost was comradeship with their neighbors.

WE ARE ALL AWARE OF THE BACKGROUND STORY

Olympia sits on the I-5 Corridor and because of its location it is susceptible to the transient nature of gangs and drug trafficking. Every now and then one of the cities will make a big push to clean up their city and then you can practically set your watch by how long it will take the criminal elements to pack their bags and move to the next city along the freeway. Downtown Olympia is a mess and not safe at night and many other neighborhoods are locked up tight, day and night, for protection. The police are overworked, the city budgets strained to the limit and there appears to be few answers for those hard-working folks who just want to raise their families in peace and safety.

I do not know how it is in other cities in the United States; I can only report on what I have seen in Tacoma and Olympia. I suspect that a similar situation is being experienced in many of the larger cities across our countries and quite possibly in cities the size of Olympia where the population is only about 40,000 inhabitants.

So what are citizens to do? There are too few cops, not enough money in the city budget for adequate protection and civic improvements and seemingly no answers!

Well welcome to the Northeast Neighborhood Association of Olympia!

BUILDING A BETTER COMMUNITY

A little over ten years ago a group of citizens with a list of concerns a mile long formed the Northeast Neighborhood Association. As you can see on the map this is an area approximately a mile square in area and it includes an elementary school, middle school, bakery, several parks and nature trails and a couple mom & pop grocery stores. For the most part it is a residential neighborhood that is situated about a mile from downtown Olympia. The homes are not extravagant in this area; they are mostly the dwellings of middle-class citizens living middle-class lives. There are countless such neighborhoods across the United States; the only thing that makes this area somewhat unique is that the residents decided to do something about their list of grievances rather than wait for the government to do what it could when funds allowed.

This initial group decided that they wanted to live in a place of safety where kids could be kids and adults would help each other for the betterment of all families. They drafted a list of qualities they hoped their neighbors could live by:

· I will listen before I act

· I will not let my fears keep me from taking a stand

· I will always be open to new ideas

· I will take responsibility for my actions

· I will live my life as if I am not entitled to anything

· I will act in autonomous but not individualistic ways

· I will continually look inward and challenge my own assumptions and beliefs

· I will hold myself and others mutually accountable for the health of my community

· I will not abide the obfuscating and buck-passing behaviors of bureaucratic institutions

· I will lean into the uncomfortable places in my life to deepen my connection with others and my own spirit

· I will live the idea that relationships are more fundamental than individuals and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

· I will create opportunities to engage in dialogue with others about what kind of future we want to create for ourselves together

· I will relish and celebrate the expansion and deepening of the many facets of the world I create with others

· I will embody the idea that we’re all in this together, that my fate is tied to the fate of others and the planet

· I will balance hard work with laughter and compassion

LOFTY GOALS TO BE SURE BUT WHERE IS THE ACTION?

Well, as it turned out this little group had the action to back up their words. Today this group is 350 strong and growing rapidly and they charge $10 per year membership fees, a fee that I’m sure you will agree is not very steep even in today’s economic world. They rely on volunteers to accomplish what ten years ago seemed impossible. A partial list of their accomplishments would include:

· San Francisco St. hill sidewalk, from East Bay to Garrison

· Friendly Grove Park

· Mission Creek Nature Park

· Fir St. Rain Garden

· Mission Creek Stewards

· Miller Avenue sidewalk

· Graffiti Busters (with over 1200 tags removed)

· Roosevelt School Centennial Time Garden & Human Sundial

· Quince St. sidewalk and other school walking route improvements

· Roosevelt School traffic safety improvements

· Festivals at SF and Bethel streets

· Annual Neighborhood Potluck parties

· Countless park and neighborhood clean-up work parties

· Wendell Berry Community Garden

· Pocket Gardens on SF St.

· Neighborhood walking guide

· Walk & Roll to School Days

MY OWN PERSPECTIVE

I have lived in Olympia now for twenty-two years. I have seen it go from being a quaint little town where one felt safe to a city outgrowing its resources where safety is a fleeting memory. From where I stand this seems to be the norm rather than the exception in the United States and although I know things were not perfect back when I grew up I find myself longing for those simpler days on 18th & Monroe where neighbors were not afraid to spend an evening out on their porches enjoying the quiet pleasures of the simple life.

No, life is not simple today. Words like meth, crack and assault and battery were not part of the everyday conversation when I was a kid. Not once when I was growing up did I worry about someone pulling an automatic weapon out of their coat at school. I walked for miles, biked further than that and my parents never had to fret about my safety.

There is a part of me that still believes it is possible to re-claim our neighborhoods and transform them once again into havens of safety and mutual respect but I do not for a single moment believe that the government is going to make this happen. I believe this is the job of individuals banding together in a concerted effort to claim that which is theirs.

Never underestimate the power of a determined group of citizens. Our history is filled with actions undertaken by small bands of concerned individuals who decided that change had to happen and then determined that they would make it happen. I applaud the founders of the Northeast Neighborhood Association and I applaud those who continue to carry that banner of hope for the future.

2012 Bill Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Aurelio, the longer I live in this city the more I come to appreciate it. I really am lucky to be living here; by the way, there is room for you, but don't tell too many people. :)

      Thank you my friend!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      You are so lucky to live in such a community. Here in Southern California, neighbors mind their own business and rarely interact. So I tend to create my own communities around group activities such as at the gym. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hi Dee! You are entirely correct that much of the good old days was not good. I appreciate you stopping by again and I'm glad you enjoyed my trip back in time and a look at what a modern neighborhood can do if determined.

    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 5 years ago

      The good ole days were not all good. What was good was what you are saying here neighborhood were good places..neighbors looked out for one another and for each others children. When someone in the neighborhood needed help everyone came.

      I agree with you we can get that feeling back....nothing change unless a small group of committed people raise their ban together and raise their voices.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very nice Missy and I agree completely. I will always be a private person but that does not mean I can ignore those around me. I love this neighborhood as well. I have probably seen you walking about and did not know I was seeing a kindred spirit. I will look more closely when I drive by you in my orange Honda Fit!

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      missyoly 5 years ago

      Hi Bill (an others): I have to share my experiences living in the NE Neighborhood for almost 19 years now. This past year, we moved from about 2 blocks from the bakery to over by Friendly Grove Park. As a lifetime walker, I have enjoyed countless hours of year-round walking this wonderful space; enjoying the change of the seasons and the changes in people's houses, yards, pets and their Christmas decorations outside. My husband and I have had the pleasure of reuniting neighbors with lost pets, going to the annual potluck, the fireworks at Roosevelt (the best kept secret that will now go away due to the recent vote) and numerous garage sales. This is just a few of the reasons we wanted to stay in the neighborhood because it feels like a neighborhood. We are just getting to know a few of our newest neighbors and still stop and say hi to our past neighbors. During the recent ice storm, we checked on each other to see who needed help. While there will always be folks who want to keep to themselves, I find it comforting to know my neighbors looked out for us 24/7 and we did the same. It doesn't take being nosy to do this, just a true caring for each others well-being. We are on the planet together. It is amazing how far a smile and a hello can go in this neighborhood. It is up to each one of us to continue making this the best place to live; it doesn't take a mound of financial resources, just a small gesture of kindness to recognize each other. I am proud to call the NE neighborhood my home.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dan, a fascinating and insightful comment and I thank you for it. Let me just say this: I agree with you about the general perception of a fear that in general is unfounded. However, I have lived in Olympia long enough now to see the difference that has happened. Downtown is not a safe place to be at night; I had a paper route in the middle of the night that ran through downtown and for the most part the homeless and the drifters were polite and friendly but there is an underground fringe that is dangerous and so unpredictable that it should be feared. I interacted with them nightly and simply did not feel safe.

      This neighborhood is remarkable, a complete turnaround from what it was when I first moved to Olympia. Back then I did not feel safe in this area; now I do.

      I have found Olympia to be much more friendly than many cities I have visited; I suppose that is one of the main reasons I have stayed here this long. I love what is here in this town and I love what this neighborhood is doing to change.

      I look forward to meeting you; one day when Bev and I are out walking we'll stop by and introduce ourselves.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article and best wishes to you and yours.

      bill

    • profile image

      Dan Larsen 5 years ago

      Bill,

      Thanks for your article.

      There's so much that I agree with, but wanted to comment on the editorial about neighbourhood fear. I just moved into the Upper Eastside neighbourhood (the ripped up place across the street from the dog park, which is now undergoing some serious renovation, inside and out).

      I do wonder about American culture in general and the neighbourhood I live in specifically whether the fear of crime is reality, or simply perception cultivated by the media we've all spent so many years of our lives ingesting (for context, I grew up in England, where the culture of fear is stoked far, far less than it is here in the States). I love Olympia for its diversity and acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Sure, there's a lot of deadbeats and semi-professional beggars, but do I ever really feel any fear? No, not really. I've taken homeless guys medicine and given my leftover pizza (cherished leftovers though they were) to dudes in the street asking for change. Never did I feel any fear.

      Being a parent of an 8 year old boy, honestly, the biggest thing I'm afraid of is sexual predators. I'm on the sheriff's email list and get the notifications, so I'm acutely aware of who is a registered sex offender in the neighbourhood and roughly how far they are from my home. But even then, I wonder how much of my fear is legitimate versus purely perceptual. Do those notices arm me with useful information, or simply with a sense of paranoia? When I look out my window, when I walk around the neighbourhood, when I take the dog for a run in the dog park, I meet nothing but thoroughly good people. And that's how I choose to view the immediate world around me. I don't watch TV; I don't read local news media for the most part; I base my perception of my immediate world based on my experience of it. And my experience of Olympia as an overall neighbourhood, and the upper eastside in particular, has been, with the exception of a crusty neighbour here and there, really awesome. Oly is simply different. My neighbours across the street have run their own their own construction company and have been so giving in their insights on how we could remodel the beaten up old 1920 house we just bought; another neighbour is a professional hippie who works at Evergreen, and whom within minutes of meeting I was openly discussing the removal of fences and planning a more open-architecture neighbourhood with. Like-minded people, all wanting to work together to get to know their neighbours better. Most of us have kids, or plan to have kids, and we almost all recognize that the modern American society of social isolation is a totally bullshit way to leave. We've all done it, we (almost) all know it's bullshit, and we (almost) all want to change; change back to how things used to be as a community, and change forward to how things could be as a new community in the future.

      For our part, we're trying to create something akin to "The Commons" that Jonathan Rowe wrote about in his now decade-old article:

      http://dorjeworks.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/dorje-w...

      We're working on building an "ecovillage", for lack of a better description at the moment, across the street from the dog park (not wanting to post our address on the internet, obviously, but anybody who's local will be able to identity where we are). Community involvement in this is key for us. We welcome any and all to stop by to just say hi or to pitch in and help with our little vision of helping create the vision of "The Commons".

      Thanks again for the article. As you said: Never underestimate the power of a determined group of citizens. I couldn't agree more. Don't let fear, which is often perception instead of reality, be a barrier to allowing that idea to flourish. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mark, it's the only way we are ever going to turn this thing around. The government does not represent us so we have to begin this at the grassroots level. Take care my friend and may you find peace and happiness this weekend.

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      Another great article Bill, The description of how people can work together to accomplish what the govt will not is so true. I have said for many years what we nee is more citizens standing up and taking responsibility for their lives again.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Millionaire, that is usually the problem, getting people to take time from their busy lives to do some work. I'm sorry it didn't work in your neighborhood and I hope this sort of thing grows in numbers. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I was part of my neighborhood association too, and it is amazing how much you can accomplish when you can band together. Many people were afraid of joining because they were worried we would start dictating color schemes, etc. Nope, our goal was just to keep the crime out and make it a better neighborhood. We simply didn't have enough volunteers to keep it going.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sandra, we probably did! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I guess wishing for the old days does not good but I'll probably keep doing it.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Sounds like we grew up in the same time frame. Enjoyed your hub.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Tammy, as you may know Bev went back to rural Kentucky last month to pick up her mother and what she described to me was unbelievable! It was the stuff of "Deliverance" but it was very real. I'm so happy for you that you are out of that sort of area and it does, indeed, take a village.

      Thank you my dear friend!

      bill

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub Bill. I grew up in a neighborhood like this in rural Pennsylvania. Unfortunatley things are not like this anymore. I raised my sons in a poor rural community in SC and it was unsettling. I will not raise my young daughter there because it is just unreal. Great thought provoking hub! It takes a village. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Always, I remember very well the days when you didn't lock your doors...we used to leave the door open and just close the screen door on warm summer nights. Those days are long gone I'm afraid.

      Thank you my friend; have a peaceful evening.

      bill

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I can remember when we slept with our windows up ( The night air was wonderful ) The kids played in the park without fear. Everyone sat out on their porches at night with no thought of a mugger. Those were the good old days..Great hub..Enjoyed reading..

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lisa, I have the feeling, and this is just a hunch, that this is much more to do with the disintegration of civility rather than the disintegration of neighborhoods. Thanks for the interesting comment!

    • EclecticFusion profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago from Tennessee

      I have lived in my neighborhood since 1974 and when I was little, I played with the neighbor kids and had a great time. Now that I'm grown, I never talk to the neighbors and with the ones I have now, I rather keep to myself! There's not much crime, but one neighbor and her family have shouting matches and another neighbor has parties ever night where everyone invited can't speak unless they utter a curse word every other word!

      I hope that the neighborhood project in Olympia is a wonderful success!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome Marcy; I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      What an inspiring example of community spirit! Thanks for showing us that the good old days can be right now. Love it!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bev, you better enjoy my writings; we are joined at the hip you and I. :)

    • kingmaxler profile image

      kingmaxler 5 years ago from Olympia, Washington USA

      Thank you for a positive hub that shows people making a difference within their own neighborhood. I enjoy your writings.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Paula, you are very correct and there is a fine line to be drawn. As you know, in three years we will be buying a farm and then living a somewhat secluded life and I'm fine with that...in fact I dream about it daily.

      Since I have to live in the city I just like knowing that there is some sort of cohesiveness where I live, that people won't turn their backs if you really need someone.

      I certainly don't want to have them over for coffee during my alone time; that's off limits. :)

      Thanks buddy; good of you to stop by! Have fun with that damn creek!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      bill....I enjoyed this hub immensely. However, being of the Loner/Hermit breed, I am not a neighbor-needing type of gal. Anytime I have had neighbors, they've been nice, friendly people (casual, a wave here and there) so I have been fortunate.

      For the past 10 years, I've been where I have only a distant neighbor to my west, and a house across the 4-Lane highway.....pretty far...and only wooded area behind me and a CREEK on my east.. (There's that CREEK again). I love it this way. The fewer neighbors, the more I like it. Nosy neighbors, busy-bodies and people who "DROP-BY" are on my short list!!

      I do think it is important for young families (small children) to be in a friendly, helpful & safe neighborhood. The children have playmates and the parents can all keep the kids within eye and ear shot. However, I do not foster neighbors getting too chummy or buddy-buddy. It seems this is where issues can arise and the next thing you know, everyone is building privacy fences around their homes and shutting people out....telling everyone at the grocery store that their neighbor "is an asshole." lol UP ++

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eddy, I hope you write that hub; I so look forward to it. Your area looks so lovely and I have a hunger to learn about parts of the world I have never seen. We are all humans and I love to hear about how others interact. It gives me food for thought and new subjects to write about.

      Peace and love always my friend; tell Dai hello for me.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey Kelly! What you described is what I see each and every day around the city. It's amazing to me how many people do not know the names of their neighbors. I understand it but it still amazes me. We are social animals by nature and wouldn't it be lovely to at least know our neighbors on a first name basis.

      I think every neighborhood has one lady like you described who sees all. LOL....thank you my dear for taking the time to visit.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Teaches, I hate to be one of those old codgers who say the old days were great, but I guess that's how I sound. Although I am a private person by nature I still miss the cohesiveness that can be found in a neighborhood that works and plays together. I hope we see this trend reverse so others can experience what you and I once experienced. Thank you for stopping by and your valuable comments.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Another gem told in your own natural style; you always give me that feeling that you are sat by my side telling me your stories.

      It sounds as if you are living the life you want now with that wonderful dream to work towards.

      The community spirit sounds so heartwarming and is so nice to know that these values still thrive.

      I was going to share a little of the community spirit that thrives right here where we live but no I won't because I think it's too much for a comment and will make a good hub;so that one may be next on the list.

      See now then ;I keep telling you how inspiring your work is !!! ha ha!

      Thank you again and here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here.

      Take care and enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Hi Bill - our area is similar. We do not have a good neighborhood watch (ok except for the lady that lives in our cul du sac - she sees all! Lol. I think you've depicted many areas in the US. I do not see neighborhood cohesion where I live - in my subdivision it's each man for himself. Weirdest thing. I've lived here for 7 years and everyone keeps to themselves and waves by the mail box. I do have a cop that lives across the street (directly in front of my house) don't know what his name is but the car keeps people away from our corner. Kinda sad isn't it?

      All the moms know who I am and often I watch their children and pick them up from school and drop them at home. Now - I don't know them well at all.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I remember the days when neighbors would drop in for a visit unannounced but welcome. People chatted over the fence before going in for the night. Children played in the streets without having to worry about being watched and stalked. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Our neighborhoods are becoming isolation areas and keep us from bonding as a community. Glad you live in such a wonderful neighborhood. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the hope that we can make a difference.