Boat letter: not so neighborly
The National Association of Town Watch (NATW) has been encouraging communities to hold block parties for 33 years. Storm Lake, along with thousands of places across the country, will have a number of neighborhood gatherings on Tuesday August 2nd. The NATW website references these gatherings in this way: "National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, better places to live."
Christine (my wife) and I have lived in Storm Lake for seven years and continue to be impressed by how many people of this town are working hard to establish the sense of community. Recently we hosted visitors from Africa and South America. Chris Rasmussen, of Rasmussen Ford, was a generous partner in helping them move about our area. The Bridge is doing great work with children of diverse backgrounds. Genesis Development and Faith, Hope & Charity add significant social capital through their engagement with those who have special needs. Upper Des Moines, supported by many congregations, is able to provide basic services and resources to those who are experiencing the challenges of poverty. Our Place, a ministry of Lakeside Presbyterian, provides a space for conversation and the sharing of gifts. I am sure there are more organizations or individuals who are contributing to the sense of community in Storm Lake. Their model has inspired my wife and me to intentionally landscape, and build an extension to our home in Emerald Park, so that we would invite neighborliness. We now have a front porch, flower gardens (including a fairy garden for the young or young at heart), and a curving front walk path that hopefully would invite neighbors to sit with us and enter into conversation. Christine realized that many new families are now in our neighborhood and walk to a local park, however drivers would often forget the speed limit in residential areas. She was able to lift up the issue to the appropriate leaders and new "children at play" signs were installed. This is how we build neighborhoods and develop community, people working together for the common good.
Shortly before Memorial Day I was struck with the fragility of this thing we call "community." The mail brought an unsigned letter postmarked Des Moines. The author was upset that I had parked my pontoon boat in our driveway because it blocked their view around the corner, and caused, what they felt, was a hazard to those walking on the street. I will note that it was twenty feet back from the curb, and if someone was maintaining a safe speed, of no concern. What I am left with is an uncertainty of who sent this letter. In that uncertainty I wonder about everyone who drives by or walks down the block. I am saddened that whoever sent the letter didn't understand the damaging effect of an anonymous communication. Maybe this is not such a welcoming and open community? Those who have taken the time to talk with Chris or me would know that we are approachable and we would have attempted to respond to their concerns (I had intended to move the boat during the Memorial Day holiday). Of those things I have learned in my sixty plus years is that someone must care about building relationships and be willing to enter into civil conversation. I am left with the impression that the sender is not open to civility, a sad commentary on our culture in the 21st century, when civility is so desperately needed.
All said, I do feel NATW is important. I feel relationship building and community forming are ongoing important endeavors, however they will sometimes slide back. Nonetheless, those of us who desire to create sustainable relationships that promote interdependence must keep at it, regardless of those who attempt to return to times of isolationism and independence.