Friday, February 24, 2006

Neighborhoods, trails and work

I recently had a discussion about what makes a neighborhood a nice place to live.

My first thought was that the favorite places where I’ve lived all had something in common – they were near trails, or had places where I could walk.

In San Mateo I could walk out the front door and, within minutes, be on a lengthy trail right on the bay.

When I lived in Willits I could walk out my door and go to a nearby park, or watch the Skunk Train arrive at the depot.

My current home in McKinleyville is close to the Hammond Trail, the School Road Trail and various pathways near the river.

I walk down to the river several times a week with Big Brown Dog, and life is good.

Life was good in all the places I’ve lived where I could walk somewhere.

The places where I didn’t enjoy living were places where, if I wanted to do something, I had to get in my car and drive somewhere. Those places sucked.

But then I was reminded of another obvious factor that makes up a good neighborhood – neighbors.

Good neighbors always have a common factor – they either work, are retired after years of work, or have hobbies or various tasks which keep them busy and, basically, working.

My bad neighbors always had something in common – they didn’t work. They sat around snorting meth and sometimes sold drugs. The men beat up the women, the women beat up the men, and the kids were left wandering the neighborhood in dirty diapers. It was ugly.

I once lived near some extreme tweakers in McKinleyville. They snorted meth day and night. They were as dysfunctional as one could imagine.

But there was a short period of time when their lives were almost normal. It was when the husband got a job. He went to work in the morning and came home in the evening. The drug usage continued, but it seemed as if they were consuming less. The kids seemed happier and behaved themselves. Ozzie and Harriet they were not, but for a short time they resembled something close to a family. They had some sense of humanity.

Then, things spiraled out of control, the husband lost his job and things went from bad to worse. Eventually, their water and electricity was turned off. I assume they’re now dead.

I know other people who don’t work and they seem to have problems of their own. Of course, there are exceptions. But as a general rule, a healthy neighborhood is one where most of the residents work, are retired after years work, or engage in activities that resemble work.

Although there’s no question that a decent wages are important for a society, in my experience wage is not an issue when it comes to good neighbors.

I’ve lived near folks that made minimum wage, but they were good neighbors – they worked. I’ve lived near migrant workers. They were low-paid, but good neighbors – they worked.

I assume this is why ghettos are bad neighborhoods. It’s not just that people are poor – it’s because they don’t work.

You can give people food stamps and welfare, which are often needed, but the neighborhood will be a bad place to live unless you give them work.

So the key to improving a bad neighborhood is to give people jobs, even if those jobs are subsidized. Given the turbulent nature of capitalism, a safety net is necessary. Welfare is often necessary. But for the sake of neighborhoods, there must be work.

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