As human beings, we’re drawn to life. In any generic environment, we are drawn to a potted plant or a pet almost immediately. We congregate with other people with other potted plants and more animals. Then, when we’ve collected enough people, plants, and animals, we call it civilization and we’re pretty proud of ourselves. Life attracts life and seems to multiply things in a way that fosters culture. This is a pretty deep subject that’s been thoroughly studied by philosophers for a long time, so I’m not going to bother adding my voice to the topic.
One thing I’ve noticed recently, though, is how life is expressed through a house. I’m sure if any of you were to take a walk through the neighborhood, you’d be able to point out houses that feel “dead” and some that feel particularly “alive.” Dead houses tend to feel darker, even during the day. Windows are all closed. Shrubbery is overgrown. Simple maintenance things like loose gutters or broken blinds have been overlooked. No matter how cheery the rest of the houses along the street feel, the “dead” house catches the eye. Sometimes these houses have actually been abandoned. Other times, they’ve just been neglected.
What I love seeing are houses that have been “dead” suddenly spark to life, often a result of a change in ownership or tenant. “Alive” houses aren’t always the prettiest on the block. A lot of the most “alive” houses have kid clutter in the yard – bikes, swingsets, etc. One of my favorite things about an “alive” house is the open windows. Most of the liveliest homes seem to have a lot of lights on inside with opened drapes and blinds. I understand keeping the drapes closed for privacy, but there’s something of a trust statement built into open windows. It’s so heartwarming to go for a walk through the neighborhood and see a family gathering at the dinner table or settling in front of the TV for movie night or having Nerf gun dart wars. I have more to say about open windows that I’ll discuss in the next blog, but I can summarize my basic thought here: Open windows tend to suggest an openness to neighbors.
I have seen more and more houses becoming “alive” in the neighborhood this year. This last Halloween, more homes in the neighborhood were lit up and welcoming trick-or-treaters. For Thanksgiving, the streets in the neighborhood were crowded as families gathered here instead of anywhere else in the city. At Christmastime, we had more decorations on more homes than we’ve had in years. More “alive” homes translates into a more “alive” neighborhood. We’ve been seeing more neighbor involvement and more pride on a neighborhood level which is appearing to translate into individual homes as well. It’s an encouraging trend that has Minne Lusa sitting on more stable ground than we have been in a long time.
If you would like to make sure your house is one that feels “alive,” I’m including a checklist that is easy to follow. This list is not a comprehensive list. You may do some things that I have not included that are wonderful ideas, but if you don’t have any ideas, this will get you started:
- Turn on an outside light at night. Porch lights, garage lights, lampposts, landscape lights, etc. A little light goes a long way.
- Decorate for whatever holidays you observe. Let your neighbors know that you’re feeling festive.
- Keep plants trimmed. Mow the lawn, trim up low tree branches, cut back that humongous shrub, pull out “volunteer” trees from where they shouldn’t be.
- Consider opening your windows. We know you want your privacy and you hate TV glare, but open windows contribute to a feeling of neighborliness.
- Keep passages clear. Shovel sidewalks and driveways. Keep leaves cleared, too. We have a lot of children who walk to school who will appreciate your efforts.
- Take care of standard maintenance like gutters and trash.
- Fly a flag. Fly the Stars and Stripes, a gay pride flag, a picture of flowers and a bumblebee, or whatever you choose. Flags have been used for centuries to declare the life that is present inside the structure.
Homes that are “alive” feel that way because the people who live in them do many of the things on this list. If you want more ideas, take a walk through the neighborhood. It won’t be hard to decide which houses are “alive” and which are not. Get ideas from your neighbors. Heck, take a minute to talk with them and get their advice. Ultimately, the best way to make a neighborhood feel alive is to become part of it. A neighborhood is only as good as the people who live in it. Since we’ve got you here, we know we’ve got one of the best neighborhoods around! My family and I look forward to seeing your house really come “alive” this year!
To learn more about reviving entire neighborhoods, check out this fantastic TED talk by one of my favorite speakers, Theaster Gates, who spent time in North Omaha a few years ago. Grab a coffee and check out his ideas about how creativity and imagination can reinvigorate an entire community. It’s worth your time.