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Welcome to the neighborhood.

When Tom Vanderbilt's essay on neighborhoods arrived on my desk, I immediately thought of the popular television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The show's appeal was limited pretty exclusively to the 3-to-5-year-old set, leaving millions of parents to endure painful hours of the treacly host and his spun-sugar world. But despite this divide, Fred Rogers (the host's real name) put his finger on something that seems universal: an abiding desire for a safe and welcoming place beyond the family.

My own children never took to Mister Rogers' imaginary neighborhood, and that might have had something to do with the fact that they were lucky enough to live in a real one. Yet as they grew up I realized that real neighborhoods are fundamentally a lot like Mister Rogers'--they aren't so much places as acts of imagination.

Franklin Forest, the suburban neighborhood where I live, was just a name like countless others dreamed up by real-estate developers until several decades ago, when the people living there turned it into an idea and, ultimately, a community, going so far as to formalize ties that had grown at the school-bus stops and over evening drop-bys at a social club (the Frolickers) that still blessedly survives. It's a surprisingly wonderful thing to make friends with people from a few blocks away whom you'd normally never even meet. Vanderbilt tells a similar tale about Brooklyn's Cobble Hill, which became a neighborhood after area residents perceived a threat from development and invented a name and identity for the place where they lived. It became a community.

In Franklin Forest, just as in Mister Rogers' neighborhood and in Cobble Hill, it is people who make neighborhood happen--often just a handful of them, the ones who are happy to invite the newcomers down the street over for drinks or to hear out the wild tales told by the eight-year-old who lives two doors down. In my neighborhood, the unofficial mayors lived right next door and were godparents to both our children. I often joke that the real-estate ad for the house we bought should have read "4 BR, 2BA, next door to the Chriscos." But it's not really a joke. Neighborhood can be a precious part of the human experience, yet despite our contemporary talk about all things local--the "things" often being merely consumer goods--we still seldom appreciate it. It certainly wasn't on my mind when my wife and I bought our house in "the Forest."

That neglect partly explains why neighborhood and community have long been preoccupations of the WQ. Beginning with Robert Fishman's "Megalopolis Unbound" (Winter 1990) and "The Second Coming of the American Small Town"(Winter 1992), by New Urbanist thinkers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, we have published many articles on these themes, including five by the premier observer of urban America, Witold Rybczynski, and, most recently, Sarah Courteau's "New to the Neighborhood" (Spring 2011). All are ungated at www.wilsonquarterly.com. I hope you'll drop by.

STEVEN LAGERFELD is the editor of The Wilson Quarterly. Before joining the magazine's staff in the 1980s, he worked at The Public Interest and the Institute for Educational Affairs. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper's, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S COMMENT
Author:Lagerfeld, Steven
Publication:The Wilson Quarterly
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2013
Words:541
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