Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Urban Neighborhood Exodus still Lamented

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2007 by 4 comments

Hey! That’s my auntie in the Washington Post this week. What a wonderful piece of writing from Georgia Lewis. Here’s a sample. Read it all here.

The year I was 13 my family moved from decaying, downtown Buffalo to a brand-new house in the suburbs. It was barely beyond the city limits, but it was a world away from what I’d known: street games, front porches and sidewalks; crowded flats with immigrant families and their assorted relatives; pungent odors of ethnic cooking; people sitting outside at night, sharing stories and troubles, teaching one another how to crochet or can tomatoes or speak English.

Our new neighbors were American-born, middle-class, polite but distant. They drove cars and sat on their private backyard patios. No front porches, no sidewalks, no visiting with neighbors as you walked to the corner store. No foreign accents and noisy extended families. These were the things we left behind.

I understood that our move was part of the American dream. But it wasn’t my dream. I didn’t want to move up. I missed the communal life…

I wasn’t the only one lamenting our success. My grandmother wept quietly for months. My mother phoned our old neighbors daily. My sister went back to the dilapidated old high school for her senior year. My father must have been bewildered.

Posted in: Community Building, Neighborhood


  1. elizabeth cole says:

    There is an epilogue to my mother’s story about moving to the suburbs of Buffalo:

    You see, after they retired, my grandparents sold the house and moved back into the city. My family’s visits from our Maryland suburb (with mile after mile of cookie cutter houses: split level – colonial – split level – colonial…) were my earliest urban experiences. After dinner the old folks would hold court in their lawn chairs set up in driveways and on sidewalks. All the neighborhood kids would play out front and if you were lucky, you’d get sent on an errand- to go pick up a pizza or some ice cream, or return a casserole dish to a neighbor… all on foot. If those visits didn’t change my life, then they led me to it: I still may not know what I want to be when I grow up, but I’ve always known the kind of neighborhood I wanted to live in: a noisy one, with sidewalks, front porches, and bus stops.

  2. Michael says:

    Amen Beth! I don’t know how I arrived at the same conclusion, yet here I am. -MWL

  3. Merianne says:

    Thank you Michael for sharing the story of your auntie, which brings a sense of yearning to my heart.

    Yes, so many of us grew up in the suburbs, mine in ths SF Bay Area. At a relatively young age, I felt there was ‘somthing missing, but I couldn’t define it until I moved to a real city, where people DID sit on their front porches. Many of them, mostly older Italian immigrants, had lived in this smallish city (Albany, CA) for many years, having been drawn to that part of the country to work in the Richmond Shipyards during WWII. Sadly, as the price of housing went sky-high there, it’s lost its ‘hometown’ feel. It’s become like the suburbs your aunt described. What DO we do to prevent this from happening? One idea is intentional communities, another is a passion to NOT let people live behind their doors if they really DO want to be a vibrant part of their neighborhood. EVERYONE has ‘stories’ to tell, things to share!
    Let’s hope and ACT to revive that feeling of that Buffalo neighborhood where cultural and ethnic diversity is a rich part of living together!

  4. Michael says:

    Thanks Merianne… This is a common story, unfortunately. It does me good to hear people tell their versions and I especially appreciate your call to action. That’s what Front Porch Forum is all about! -Michael

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