Racism, Gentrification and Sleepovers

Probably the biggest thrill in leading SPACIOUS has been the fun, collaborative interaction with so many people, many of whom I didn’t know six months or even one month ago. I’m learning a lot from other people as our enterprise gains momentum as any good movement, by definition, does.

One new friend, Kerry, tweeted a couple of thoughts last week, making a connection that got me excited, and I’m simply taking the two things she juxtaposed and saying more about that intersection.

She posted this piece by Carl Foster about gentrification in D.C. from The Washington Post of February 3. In it a black man bemoans the attitudes of the young whites flocking into his neighborhood and grabbing up real estate. He talks about their assumptions, when he helps them shovel out, that he is after a buck instead of simply being neighborly.

And Kerry suggested Peter Lovenheim’s approach, as told in his book, In the Neighborhood, about getting to know his neighbors one sleepover at a time.  After a murder-suicide on his Rochester, New York street, Lovenheim set out to get to know his neighbors, and he eventually asked if he could sleep over and report on the families. This interview about an Op-Ed he wrote for The New York Times is charming, I think, and I love Lovenheim’s approach.

However, isn’t it interesting (and sad) that what used to be commonplace (porch-sitting, neighbor-knowing), is now news? Okay, I’ll admit that sleepovers for adults aren’t commonplace (though I’ve had a few, and they’ve been a blast), but the general idea of neighbors actually connecting is more novel than it should be.

Our whole SPACIOUS enterprise is based on the idea that when people KNOW each other’s names and stories, they appreciate each other (and beyond that, that there is great potential for social good, for renewal, for problem-solving).

I’m betting that a good old potluck on Irving Street would make a lot of difference in easing tensions as the neighborhood gentrifies (a rightfully complicated subject for sure). And that if people had started sleeping over, there wouldn’t be a misunderstanding in sight. Okay, that’s a bit rose-colored… but you get my point.

Knowing people makes all the difference, however you do it. If you’re local, come to our events. Let us get to know you.  Then we’ll see what good can result, personally and community-wide. That’s the way it works.

Kerry, whose own blog, Renewable Enthusiasm, has much to recommend it, ended her tweets with saying how she thought SPACIOUS and People’s District (a wonderful site that features stories of D.C. residents) are doing their part to fight isolation and ethnocentrism (my words, her point) in the city.

I loved hearing that; I believe it’s true.

Join us.

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