Before I dive into my research I guess I need to ask myself a simple question. Do Portlanders really want to share more common space with their neighbors? If not, why not give up on streets as a place for anything other than motor vehicles? After all, doesn’t the backyard play structure and McMansion address our need for elbow room?
My first thought was, like it or not, our neighborhoods will become denser necessitating a more efficient use of valuable space. Most would accept the logic that more people will live here in the future and the urban growth boundary isn’t going to vanish any time soon.
I didn’t grow up in a city or a suburb. I grew up with acres and acres of open space to roam among the walnut orchards of rural Northern California. We had enough space to hit golfballs down the rows of trees with no risk of putting out a neighbor’s window. Despite all this space, my childhood desire to expand my “home turf” never seemed to be satisfied. My sense is that if people felt safe spending time outside their front door they would do it.
But what about interacting with neighbors? It has taken me a little while to feel comfortable with it, but I love living next to people who want to know me. Strong neighborhood identity is without a doubt one of the most unique aspects of living in Portland. The desire to know our neighbors was one of our key factors for choosing where my wife, Tine, and I bought a home. Generally speaking, those less interested in really knowing their neighbors tend to gravitate to the suburbs.
In the end I have to believe that we all have a deep desire to experience community where we live. Perhaps for some it is just buried a bit deeper down than for others.