Invasion of the Plaza People

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Block parties. Street fairs. Outdoor movie nights. As a valiant indoorswoman, I'm largely indifferent to these festivities. I'm told, however, that neighborhood events build community, so I'm glad we have them for people who want them.

But our San Francisco neighborhood association says we need to have as much community as possible. Unfortunately, they propose creating a pedestrian plaza by permanently closing a block of our neighborhood's main street to cars. Here, despite a beautiful city park one block away; despite the inevitable parking and traffic ordeals, with idling delivery trucks clogging more than one kind of artery; despite the empty creep-out at night; we could, on our foggy wind-tunnel's 11 warm days a year, hang out in a glorious pajama-party coma of community.

Plaza proponents speak in abstractions of  "generating pride" in our "urban village" or "extending the neighborhood's front yard." But three doors away in my very real and concrete front yard, people drink and fight and shout and pass out; they leave cans and bottles and, occasionally, the contents of their digestive organs. Just as they would on a plaza.

There is, admittedly, one unexpected benefit to this proposal. In opposing it, I've met neighbors I didn't know I had; a horn player, an artist, a property owner who lowered the rent to keep a public service in place, a woman who has lived here for 50 years and volunteers for kids with cancer. I've also seen more of the neighbors on my block this past month than in the past 18 years. They are smart, funny, civic-minded people and our united effort reminds me of just how lucky I am to live among them.

So then, I guess the issue has created some community after all.


With a Perspective, I'm Lisa K. Buchanan.

Lisa Buchanan is a writer and college-essay tutor.