Published: Mar 02, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 02, 2013 06:24 PM
Mister Rogers, if he were still alive, would be sorely disappointed in our towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, I expect. .
Certainly, we havent been singing much lately of his opening song: Its a neighborly day in this beauty wood
No, it seems the word neighbor has taken on a whole new meaning. You have to wonder if the word hasnt become, in fact, a dirty one.
In the last few months, there have been two columns, one irate letter from a county commissioner, at least one draft of a town report (subsequently changed) and a town meeting that appear to have given the idea of neighbor less than a stellar reputation. Its as if having affection for your community and home is enough to brand you as an impediment to all kinds of progress, from growth and development to understanding the way the world has changed.
Change, of course, is an inevitable part of life. If this werent so, there wouldnt be so many business writers making huge amounts of money off books like Who Moved My Cheese. Its also true as Dennis the Menace would have told you, neighbors can be grumpy sorts who can spend a whole lot of time frustrating your best-laid plans.
On the other hand, who better than a neighbor to tell you why this place has been so special for so long and just what we might be losing as we rush ahead with building a metropolis on a hill, rather than a city on a hill, often with less real thought than one might hope for. Neighbors, like everyone else, deserve a voice and one thats listened to and respected. Im hardly talking here, either, about the hundreds of citizens committees and charrettes known in the past to end up with pre-ordained outcomes or to be ignored by our elected officials or to find their conclusions buried somewhere.
Of course, we need citizen committees, but we also need to listen to our neighbors and we need to stop defining them as if they were the Army of Resistance, or the Hordes of the Backward, or worst still, the Recalcitrant Lesser Ones causing all of our problems.
Especially difficult can be the acronym NIMBY, often thrown around carelessly to run roughshod over objectives by citizens against projects that will adversely affect their lives, while at the same time serving someone elses desires or ambitions. Neighbors may have fears that end up unrealized, but their investments including hard work, money and commitment to place demand understanding.
Like it or not, were building more than a metropolis on a hill. Were building a community here. Its always struck me as odd how some self-defined urban visionaries either stand to make a whole lot of money off the deal or have never lived in a big city themselves. They deserve to have their voices heard as well but not privileged.
Ive always loved one story told by the esteemed Bill Friday, former president of our university system, about how on a Sunday in Chapel Hill years ago, he and his wife, Ida, would go visiting. People visited up and down Franklin Street. They visited their neighbors. They talked. They didnt necessarily agree with each other.
Our best cities, including places like New York City known as uber-urban, are made up of many small vibrant communities, all of them knitted together to form the kind of place that people want to live in. I believe its time once again that we embrace the idea of neighborhood, a place where we can say within our towns, Its a neighborly day in this beauty wood