What makes for the perfect neighborhood? Since we moved to our current home on Green Bay’s near east-side, we’ve really become more enamored with our neighborhood. We knew it was going to be a great place to raise kids, and a place where we would fit in socially and ideologically with our neighbors. Our neighborhood is amazing, but I’m not always able to put my finger on the reasons why. After three years in the neighborhood, I believe a lot of it has to do with a special connection with the people and the land here. But, I’ll come to that later.
For Green Bay, our area is rather Bohemian. This is the part of town full of old punk rockers and hippies. You’ll certainly come across the tattooed and the tie-dyed in our neighborhood. But, more often, you’ll meet “normal” middle-class families. It’s a place where people work hard, maintain their properties, know their neighbors (at least by sight, or by dog, or by toddler, etc.), and get involved. We certainly have crime, but it tends to be nonviolent property crime, and is usually kept at a pretty low rate. Over the past year, our neighborhood won Neighborhood Association of the Year from the city. I’m surprised it doesn’t win every year, but I suppose I’m a little biased.
Taking a walk on the sidewalks, you’ll hear drums coming from several basements and guitars from several porches. You’ll be able to stroll through three large city parks, and pass by another tiny one that we’ve filled with native perennials. One of the largest competitive 10K races in the country starts and ends in our neighborhood. Along with jogging, walking, swimming, fishing, and skating around, you can also, play baseball, kickball, soccer, basketball, tennis, and outdoor hockey in our neighborhood. The winter hockey rinks were actually a pretty big draw for me.
We have a skate shop, which is pretty cool. The owner of an out-of-town skate shop, an avid vintage bicycle collector, also lives in our neighborhood. The woman who brought yoga instruction to our city lives here, too. We’ve got brewmasters, permaculturists, vintage-car fixer-uppers, and a pretty high concentration of teachers and professors.
You can get a tatoo in our neighborhood. You can visit the barber. You can buy supplies for your backyard birds. You can fill up your tank, get your car fixed, and your tires replaced. You can get your vision checked, buy some jewelry, and get your taxes done here. You can attend a beautiful, historic church or draw the services of mental health professionals at a treatment facility in our neighborhood. There are even two full-scale hospitals along the border of our neighborhood. I’ve visited both for various injuries, and my wife gave birth to our first child in one of them.
Interestingly, there are several places you can buy alcohol, cigarettes, and vaping supplies in our neighborhood, while there is only one place to get groceries (although, the Walgreens and gas station are chock full of junk food if that’s the only thing on your grocery list). Fortunately, there’s a battalion of back- and front-yard food growers around here. I really think that a great deal of what makes our neighborhood special is our tie to our living land. It’s our love for the parks and our dedication to making something special happen on our individual plots of land.
People grow loads of tomatoes, herbs, and other produce around here. Recently, several of us are tapping our backyard maples to make our own syrup. When we’ve produced too much food for our own families, we often put it out on our front terrace for anyone to take. These little free produce stands are a good complement to the network of little free libraries popping up all over the area. People share and take produce, including tomatoes, strawberries, apples, pears, and peppers. Even the turnips I grew a few years ago disappeared overnight. I like to imagine families sharing fresh food while perusing a new treasure or two out of the nearest library box.
On a related note, but on a more regional scale, the past decade has seen our local food economy grow by leaps and bounds. Our farmers markets are bursting, and the interest in gardening is rampant in the area. I love that urbanites are repurposing lawn space for something useful and healthy. As a former alderman, one of my greatest joys was working with local food activists on ordinances expanding community gardens, productive landscaping, and allowing the raising of chickens, goats, and bees in our city. You don’t have to be Ron Finley or Will Allen to make a difference in the urban food-production world. Although, if you are one of those guys, you’d be pretty cool.
As a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, I don’t know all the history that has gone into making this area so good to live in. But, every day I see the core of what keeps it strong: people who care about where they live, and where their kids are growing up. I feel very fortunate to be in a place where so many others around me are connecting with their place through what we grow, what we contribute, and what we enjoy. And, as important, we’re just weird enough around here that we won’t be mistaken for the suburbs.