Thoughts on my ultra-local community

Posted on September 22, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Jane Baker

One of my favorite drawings is that of a stick figure walking a dog. The thought bubble above the person is packed with worries and thoughts while the thought bubble above the dog is the same scene of a person walking a dog. I’ve written posts before about my dog, a high energy pup that insists on an hour walk—minimum—every day. So, taking a message from the drawing, I use the daily dog walk to practice being mindful and enjoy a simple stroll through my neighborhood.

Thoughts on my ultra-local community By Jane Baker | Spokane County Library District

Image courtesy of The CBT Partnership

If only I could rub out all the thoughts in the bubble and blow them away with the eraser bits from a No. 2 pencil. But unlike my pup, my experience of the neighborhood is not based on following a scent. My experience becomes more of a neighborhood community “snapshot” as I attempt to keep my thoughts from wandering to worries and focus on the experience at hand.

Community. It’s such a buzzword lately. “I like to live where there is a sense of community,” I often hear people say. Is it really just knowing who your neighbors are, or is it something bigger but less tangible?

What I often think of when referring to a sense of community is when our generous Spokane area community comes together to get behind a cause. Local disasters such as the fires this summer or a local radio personality in need of help with medical expenses—we are there with our time, money, and support. There’s also a sense of community among businesses, moms, soccer players, readers, or wherever there are common interests.

What about my neighborhood community, a mixture of low to middle income homes and rentals? Is it safe to assume that because we all live in the same area that we are a community? Well, yes, in a physical sense, but what is this sense, this feeling of community? Can my dog walk experiment show common values as well?

By the time we reach the end of the driveway, I’ve gone through my mental dog walk checklist. I like to believe I live in a community where responsible dog ownership is valued, so I make sure to have doggie-doo bags, along with treats and a water bottle. Only a few minutes into the walk, I pass a home with two ‘beware of dog’ signs. A woman steps out on the front porch and yells at me, “Don’t let your dog sh*t in my yard!” and then swiftly slams the door behind her as she returns to her house. Perhaps the signs should warn ‘beware of dog owner’—at least we seem to share the same appreciation for responsible dog ownership.

Soon after my ‘beware of dog owner’ incident, a line of seven or eight bicycles zoom past; you know, the ones with the fancy bike shorts and aerodynamic helmets. They always seem so organized and focused on their destination. I see members of this bike community often as my street has a designated bike lane. It’s nice to live in an area where healthy transportation alternatives are valued and physical fitness is encouraged.

A little farther down the street is a sign posting notice of a zoning hearing. It’s been there for a long time as the hearing date was months ago. I wonder how the hearing went as the notice says the intention is to change the zoning of this empty field from single to multi-family. Will there soon be apartments here like the newly built ones just a block farther west? I remember that a group from the neighborhood complained to City Hall about that development. Did they attend this hearing as well?

Around a busy corner past the slick new roundabout and I’m onto a residential street that’s a mix of houses and small farms. We pass a house that’s a bit run-down with a yard that could use a little TLC. A woman attempting to adjust the sprinkler waves and calls out, “Nice night for a walk.” “Indeed it is,” I reply with a smile and a wave as I continue down the road.

Around the next corner is a string of homes with impeccable yards. A homeowner there is also out checking sprinkler coverage. But this time, my smile and wave are met with a glare before she turns and walks into her garage. Maybe she was having a bad day or had recently received a deposit on her nice yard by a dog with a non-responsible owner.

Around one more corner and back to the busier street that leads to my house, I have to distract my pup from the fast food wrappers littering the sidewalk. Really? Who throws garbage out their car window? I can’t imagine those people live in the neighborhood, at least, I hope not.

At the end of this particular walk, I realize that I was somewhat successful in pushing aside the worries that usually fill my thought bubble, and instead focus on the quest to define the neighborhood community I live in. However, rather than learning more about my neighborhood, I believe I learned more about myself and what I value in a great neighborhood.

My unscientific conclusion based on this dog walk experiment tells me that my neighborhood, as most areas, has good and bad, and that mine happily leans more to the good side. I value people who take responsibility for their actions that may affect others. I like bike riders and accommodations for such activities, but also worry that bike lanes will give way to extra car lanes to address a denser population.

My brief interactions reminded me that all of us have unique backgrounds and experiences and because of this, each of us will have a different twist on defining community. Most of us have chosen to live in this area, which makes us a community by proximity and that may be all we have in common. Since I value responsibility, perhaps it is mine to help foster a fellowship with my neighbors to make the ‘sense’ of our neighborhood community even greater.

Jane Baker

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