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The photographs of San Antonio and Dignowity Hill used within this blog are the property of Juan A Garcia East Light Images. All rights are reserved to the owner. Copy and use of these pictures is forbidden without written permission. Contact Juan at for permission.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Art of Being a Neighborhood

I started this blog in April of 2008 a few months after we moved into Dignowity.  It was my attempt to document our experiences of living in an old neighborhood that came with lots of historic character along with some pretty rough edges. I stopped posting to this blog in December of 2014. Since then I would get email messages from folks who found my blog asking about the neighborhood. Apparently my blog still lives on in cyberspace!  But the inquiries were not enough to motivate me to start writing again. That is until Mayor Ivy Taylor asked me recently if I was still writing my blog. I was taken by surprise that the mayor would ask about my somewhat defunct blog. The mayor apparently had followed my blog and encouraged me to start writing again. So here we are again with more ramblings, thoughts and rants from an urban dweller.

The Art of Being a Neighborhood
Dignowity Hill has changed quite a bit since 2008. Most of the changes are good while some changes are still to waiting to happen. The biggest change is that Dignowity is now a very desirable neighborhood. Newcomers have infused some much needed investment and energy into the old neighborhood. Fans of Dignowity roam the neighborhood looking for real estate opportunities. But in spite of all of the attention challenges still remain: many streets and sidewalks are in desperate need of repair, while infill new construction has picked up the neighborhood still has many empty lots, and because the neighborhood is still relatively low income there is concern about displacement and gentrification. Regardless of the challenges Dignowity Hill is a good place.

Looking back to what drew us into Dignowity I can say with all honesty that it was an emotional pull that we felt from the neighborhood.  There was and still is a feeling that it's a place with a great sense of retained memory of its past and that elusive sense of community that we crave as humans. Even today the neighborhood invokes that emotional pull even if the neighborhood is not done with its current revival. We especially sense that feeling from long time residents who have nurtured for us the feeling that Dignowity is unique. The old houses certainly add to the charm of the neighborhood but that is only part of the story. Over and over we hear that it's the people that make Dignowity a good place. Interactions in the form of small gestures of kindness between people matter. We are humbled when an elderly neighbor stops by to drop off oranges from her backyard tree. It happens when another neighbor shares a plate of home made cake. Or when the ice cream man on his bike stops to say hello. Or when we hear about a neighbor that convert their porch into a classroom to help their own neighbors with GED classwork.  Stories like these do not make the newspapers or the late night news but are at the core in the art of being a neighborhood.  In essence the art of being neighborhood is about people and place.

The Art of Neighborhood Placemaking
I recently came across an article on placemaking titled Streets as Places. According to the authors of the article, placemaking is about turning physical public spaces into spaces that support human interaction, economic exchange and well-being. It is a continuous dynamic process not a static set of amenities, objects or activities. The article defines placemakers as instruments that mobilize the community. It's not about design but about personalities, destination, activities, and connections between people. What I found most interesting is that the authors emphasize that the community not designers or architects should be at the core of the placemaking process. In other words, the realm of placemaking belongs to the community. As Dignowity continues to transform the conversation needs to be as broad as possible. Of course architects and designers are welcomed in the conversation. We need their technical abilities to help us visualize good development but if we want to see good neighborhood placemaking then as many voices as possible need to be heard that goes beyond the technical and often times foreign language of architecture and design. 

In a changing neighborhood like Dignowity Hill placemaking needs to be embraced. The inclusive nature of the process can lead to some interesting and creative ideas. Dignowity Hill as a neighborhood and its historic district now face some interesting cross points. Some questions to think about: in a changing neighborhood how do we effectively preserve and protect not only the historical character of the neighborhood but also the strong sense of community fabric?  Who speaks for the neighborhood as a whole and decides on how this place should look like and be as a place moving forward? What should economic and business development look like for the neighborhood? Do we want to see corner stores in residential areas of the neighborhood? Can the conversation be inclusive enough to engage as many residents as possible in the neighborhood? Are you a placemaker?  You can find this interesting article at

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