The coronavirus is bringing about a strange revival of neighborhood life, which has been atrophying for a half-century. We should pay attention.
Something unexpected has happened to neighborhoods across the country in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns and business closures: they’re coming to life.
With schools and restaurants closed, and a huge swath of the workforce stuck at home either working remotely or not working at all, usually quiet and empty neighborhoods are suddenly bustling. Patterns of life and work that have become entrenched in American society over the past half-decade—kids in school and both parents away at jobs during the day—are being upended practically overnight.
Although places like New York City are undertaking more drastic measures to shelter indoors, many other cities have merely closed down nonessential commerce and restricted large gatherings. The result is that instead of empty streets and closed doors, neighborhoods have come alive with families—children playing in the front yard, couples taking walks, joggers and cyclists out and about, and neighbors getting to know one another in conversations over fences and along sidewalks—while keeping an appropriate distance, one hopes.
The effect of all this activity is that the elusive thing neighborhoods used to foster—community—is seeing a fledgling resurgence amid the pandemic.
The reason for this sudden shift is of course awful. No one would wish for neighborhood revival at the cost of a deadly plague and a ruined economy. Yet the resurgence of neighborhood life, especially neighborly solidarity and compassion, is proving to be an unforeseen silver lining to the coronavirus.
In Tucson, Arizona, a network of neighborhood volunteer organizations are checking in on seniors by phone and delivering groceries to their front doors so they don’t have to risk infection at the grocery store. In the small town of Fishers, Indiana, one woman who was dropping off groceries saved her elderly neighbor’s life when she found her neighbor suffering from a heart attack. A group of neighbors in San Diego recently gathered in front of an 81-year-old resident’s home to sing her happy birthday.
With kids home from school, parents are devising ways to create community and connectivity with other neighborhood kids. In a quiet neighborhood cul de sac in Annapolis, Maryland, familes are gathering together every morning—at a safe distance—to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A woman in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, spearheaded “bear hunts,” in which someone puts a teddy bear in his window and kids go on a kind of scavenger hunt while out on walks to try to spot the bear. The woman told Time that nearly half the homes in her 200-house neighborhood are now participating, with kids roaming the streets in full safari outfits, including binoculars.
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There are stories like this all over the country right now. Even in locked-down New York City, some neighbors are going to great lengths to get groceries to elderly and immunocompromised neighbors who can’t leave their apartments.