Recession tales: Housing bust has improved sense of community

Once upon a time, two or three years ago, when the housing market was robust and homes sold in a matter of days, people seemed to move a lot.

Or ,even if they didn't move, they thought they might. Everything seemed so temporary. We had "starter homes" and people were "trading up." Homes were financial investments rather than investments in something far less tangible -- our community.

If there's one side effect of the recession that warms my heart, it's the fact that people are less mobile, less likely to move so much.

Homes aren't selling, employers aren't recruiting and paying relocation costs at the same high rates, and people are settling into their homes with the knowledge it's going to be awhile before moving becomes an option.

Call it the "new localism." Scholar Joel Kotkin does, and writes quite eloquently about how the economic and societal changes can benefit our nation by strengthening communities.

"Fewer Americans are relocating than at any time since 1962. That's good news for families, communities ... and even the environment," Kotkin says in a Newsweek editorial.

Staying close to home is now more the norm both by economic necessity and choice as we more actively support local businesses at risk of failing. American's are becoming less nomadic and moving less often than anytime since the 1940s, according to the article. We are volunteering, raising money for local facilities, taking an interest in the public schools and supporting local businesses like never before.

I grew up in Chicago, where city neighborhoods were like small towns with easily identifiable characteristics. The sense of community was so tangible it's still felt today. Even though most of my childhood friends have moved away and the population that remains has changed, we still call it "the neighborhood." Like it's the only one.

I've always sought out community in every place I've lived. I've even chosen to remain in one of Chicago's less gentrified areas largely because the people here are so committed, so dedicated, so present, that they make me feel at home in spite of the gang and crime issues.

"Community is all about the people, and that's what we have here," said one of my neighbors recently during our regular Neighborhood Watch. This woman has been a centerpiece at neighborhood watches, clean and green events, beautification and youth programs.

Communities like ours have always had a good number of dedicated residents who take the time and make the commitment to bettering the streets. But their ranks have grown in the past year or two, as people who might have moved away were forced to stay. When faced with the choice of suffering a neglected community or rolling up their sleeves and fixing things, more people are rolling up their sleeves.

A year ago, Kotkin wrote a similar blog post:

"As the financial crisis takes down Wall Street, the regular folks on Main Street are biting their nails, watching the toxic tsunami head their way. But for all our nightmares of drowning in a sea of bad mortgages, foreclosed homes and shrunken retirement plans, the truth is that the effects of this meltdown won't be all bad in the long run. In one regard, it could offer our society a net positive: Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live."

A little something to thank the recession for.
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