Social Capital in the ‘Burbs

5 02 2008

At last, some time to blog!

The best part of my three day a week cubicle life is the commute with Mary. This afternoon’s discussion, which revived us after eight hours of low brain activity, was about social capital. Sort of. After a little warm-up blab to shake the cobwebs off the little gray cells, we got to pondering the weirdness of suburban architecture and the fact that contemporary residential construction places the house behind the garage. Those houses always look to me like maybe the residents are cowering behind the protection of their two-car garage and hoping no one will notice that they also have a FRONT DOOR. With a DOOR BELL.

My theory is that in neighborhoods populated with these homes, the residents often don’t know or socialize with their neighbors. Instead of chatting with the folks across the street, they go to the mall or a park or downtown Lawrence where they socialize with strangers. Have you ever noticed how frequently customers seem to want to strike up a conversation with merchants? It seems odd, but I think they’re lonely.

Moving on to a slightly different discussion, we got to talking about street etiquette and, in my neighborhood, the difference between the alley culture and the street culture. For instance, it’s entirely possible that I might have a conversation with my neighbor across the alley about, say, the origin of the word gongfermor, with one of us in a bathrobe and the other in early morning running attire.

However, if we had that conversation on the street in front of our houses, we would both be fully dressed with teeth brushed and shoes tied. As a matter of fact, Mary pointed out that if we saw each other in our pajamas in front of the house, we’d pretend that we didn’t see each other to spare ourselves any social embarrassment.

I love the fact that these two cultures, with entirely different social rules, is separated by only about fifty feet.




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