What’s in a name? What, for example, is the distinction between neighborhood and community? As I write about Mesopotamia, that part of Agincourt “below sea level”, I’ve blithely euphemised it using both terms interchangeably. But are they indeed synonyms?
Chicago, city of my birth and foundation for my world view — there, now you’ve got something to blame it on — is a city of neighborhoods, officially recognized urban territory with names and, more importantly, identities recognized through the city. Admittedly, those names often derive from a geographical feature or some abstraction now murky in the public consciousness but more often than not the harken to an area’s ethnicity, the and perhaps even now.
Chicago neighborhoods centered on church or synagogue. And with that came celebrations of faith and food, in restaurants, street fairs and festivals. Though the church may now be closed or occupied by another denomination or sect, the memory lingers on, like the recollection of a great meal and the company it kept.
Then there’s the city that has been my home for far longer than Chicago claimed me; I shan’t name it. But it, too, has established official neighborhoods (far smaller than Chicago’s), based on section-line streets, railway tracks, and such. Most of them make sense — except, of course the one where we live. Ours is the residue when all other proximate parts of the city have been certified and set apart. Except for one. And it may be that truth which raised my initial question: what’s in a name?
Living at the edge of the CBD is marginal, literally, a place in obvious dramatic cyclic change. Change isn’t a bad thing but it’s not entirely comfortable when power rests in other hands. So let’s label ours the Downtown Neighborhood Association and imagine one of its meetings.
We were a motley bunch that night. But our diversity was no more apparent than when the subject shifted to safety. Some DNA residents were concerned about unsavory types lurking near their apartment lobby door. I’ll admit downtown has the city’s heaviest concentration of alcoholic beverage dispensaries, what we in these parts distinguish as “on-sale” and “off-sale” establishments. And they may attract patrons more concerned with consuming the stuff than using it as a medium for socialization, if you know what I mean.
At some point the bulb above my head glowed brightly: I understood from whence came their concerns. “How many of you live in security buildings,” I inquired, meaning building with locked entries requiring a passcode or other means for obtaining entry. Multiple hands went up, most if not all of them the hands of those expressing concern about safety outside their thresholds. Ah, there’s the rub, I thought, these folks need a reality check. I observed, politely, that not all of us enjoy their reassurance, a boundary between US and THEM. “How many of you have found someone passed out on your porch,” I wondered. “How many have found a prostitute servicing someone at 3:30 in the afternoon in your backyard?” I didn’t expect a reply, nor did I get one.
Oh, I should also add that we’ve not been asked to another DNA meeting.
NEIGHBORHOOD vs COMMUNITY
So, on the question of labeling the place where I happen to have lived for forty years, I hold the opinion that we are neither. But what of Mesopotamia?