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What Made Up a Real Neighborhood?

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The author and journalist James Howard Kunstler, in his essay The Public Realm and The Common Good, articulates his arguments for the lack of what he labels as “the public realm” and “the common good” in America. Numerous arguments have been given to support his interesting ideas and they left a big question mark for readers to think about. Kunstler vigorously claims “Our civic life is tattered and frayed” (459) when speaks of “from the big city to the remotest rural trailer court” (459). To some extent, what he argues is relatively true to most American cities. Apparently, his thoughts are also applied in many new neighborhoods in the south of Vietnam. The importance of communication or socialization within a community and the absence of public spaces have been lately disregarded by the local members. Neighborhood is a significant portion of a city or a town. According to Kunstler, “the neighborhood is limited in physical size, with a well-defined edge and a focused center” (465) and it bears the size as a five-minute walking distance from the edge to the center.

However, in Vietnam – a much smaller country, a neighborhood is usually defined as the size of ten or fifteen houses together (most houses in urban and suburban Vietnam do not have a lawn or a property land), separated by streets or commercial and community spaces such as huge buildings or parks. There is no apparent boundary between business zone and living zone since houses or apartments exist everywhere in the city. My home in Vietnam is located in a fairly new and quiet neighborhood of a pretty big town by the ocean. I have never observed the change in my neighborhood but rather experienced it. A neighborhood is normally set up by its residents’ relationship. It is a tradition that next-door neighbors are habitually entitled to be closed friends or sometimes family members. Conversations between people in the same neighborhood are present almost daily, ranging from gossiping to just for respecting the proprieties. Keeping the habit of casual socializing allows people to “feel more completely human” (Kunstler 466).

Nothing seems to be worse than living in an unfriendly neighborhood when everyone becomes more caution and keeps silent even when their eyes meet. A neighborhood filled with people talking, walking, or simply existing will generalize a much better feelings for passers-by. They may find trust, comfort and pleasure when moving along a street or an area full of people enjoying themselves. “[Pedestrians] make streets safer by their mere presence in numbers” (Kunstler 466). It is fairly comprehensible that most people nowadays are not as communicative as they used to be. People are always in a hurry to catch up their each day activities. Everything move in a rush way that a simple greeting seems to take so much from their valuable time. Eventually, communication in a community does not exist as a daily and basic task. Sometimes, I wish I knew everybody’s names in the neighbor, but it is just an impossible thing to learn because it is exceptionally difficult to have a conversation with everyone nowadays.

A good neighborhood is supposed to have access to local amenities such as parks, walking/running areas or entertaining centers. However, just like what Kunstler’s observers, “Suburbs notoriously lacks parks” (467). Old parks in my neighborhood are not received enough care or maintaining. People recently have a tendency of hanging out at the malls, movie theaters, or family bowl centers. Local parks are derelict since no one seems to pay enough attention to them. The ones who find interesting in parks won’t find it safe and usable anymore. Consequently, small or local parks in Vietnam are gradually abandoned. Not many people demand for one and not many people care enough to upgrade the quality. Malls and game places do not belong to a neighborhood and are mostly located in busy and business-like area. Children grow up in a suburban or in a remote area have no option but drive a long way to have some entertainment or socialization. Bicycling and running in dilapidated parks are deemed dangerous for young kids, especially when their parents cannot always keep an eye on them. Television and computer games at home become the only leisure for kids as well as teenagers.

Kunstler is right when he shows so much concern about the new urban planning. Not only in America but also in every other country recently, the public realm doesn’t receive much attention as well as care from the people. The neighborhood is becoming inhabitable in terms of socialization and civilization. Even with the most basic unit of a community does not perform its desirable task for the members, how could one expect a friendly, civilized and socialized town, city or village to live?

Work Cited

Kunstler, James Howard. “The Public Realm and The Common Good.” Writing Analytically with Readings. Ed. David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen. : n.p., 2004. 459-470. Print.

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