By Scot Kersgaard
I sat on the stoop–the old cement steps that led from the sidewalk up to my corner yard–with a beer in hand, watching nothing in particular as the life of the city, of my neighborhood, unfolded in front of me.
Soon enough a neighbor would stroll up, either with a beer in hand or with an empty hand hoping I had an extra. Then another, seeing the gathering crowd, would drop in. Soon enough one would note he was planning to barbecue some chicken. Another would offer that he had salad fixings. We would gather spouses and children and head off for a communal meal.
That was Washington Park not so long ago. It was a scene repeated often. Then we moved. God help us, to the suburbs.
These are not your average suburbs, though. These are suburbs filled with good beer-drinking, salad-sharing people. It is just that it is harder to find them. Instead of a stoop, I have a half acre. I have no steps to sit on with a beer. If I pulled a lawn chair out to the street and popped a beer, people would look at me less than kindly. At least that was what I thought when I got here.
It takes longer to meet people here in old Lakewood. We’ve done it, though. A potluck group–formally called the Resilience Circle, a neighborhood web site, a group of people who volunteer at a local school, another group creating a community garden at the same school. One thing after another, and we’ve gotten to know our neighbors. They are mostly just like our old Wash Park neighbors. And, just like in Wash Park, I’ve made friends here that will be with me the rest of my life, even if some of us move.
In the city, in small towns, community seems to come naturally. You sit on the stoop, you walk the dog, you peer into each other’s houses. My old city house on a hill on a corner could be seen into quite easily from the sidewalk. Perfect strangers knew what I considered to be art. They could walk by and compare the quality of the woodwork in their house with what they saw through the windows of mine. In Lakewood, community has to be created intentionally. We form groups, we issue invitations. We start committees. When raising chickens is on the city council agenda, we send emails to see who is going to the meeting.
Out here, my relationships are intentional and are not confined to immediate neighbors. There are people a mile or two away whom I consider to be my neighbors. We are drawn together by our commitment to (sub)urban farming or some other odd subject. In Wash Park, I knew hardly anyone more than a block away. Here, I go a half mile in one direction to pick up firewood that someone doesn’t want. I know practically every apple tree for a mile in any direction and the owners of apple trees know me as the man with the dehydrator.
My ideas about city living and suburban living have been turned on their head. I can get to LoDo faster now (9 minutes) than when I lived just east of Washington Park. I can also get to JVA, on the west shore of Sloan’s Lake, faster than I could have from East Washington Park. My neighbors here are more diverse–by virtually any measure. To drive through the hood near 6th and Wadsworth, you would pick up on none of that.
The West Line of RTD’s light rail system opened in mid 2013. My stop–Garrison–is about a 20-minute walk, so driving to downtown Denver is still much faster than taking the train. I take it anyway. One thing I have found is that more people are now out walking in the neighborhood, going to and from the train. I don’t know why it is but people walking to and from the train are more talkative than people walking for other reasons.
It could be simply that trains are a much more sociable means of transit than a car, and they draw people who want to know their neighbors, who want some community. Right here in the burbs.
Community: It’s what you make it. It’s where you create it.
A version of this column was first published in The Denver Post.