unfinished thoughts about putting down roots

The Fens from Charlesgate, Boston
(December 2007)
As we lay the groundwork for locating and moving to a new apartment, and possibly a new neighborhood of Boston, later this year, I've been thinking a lot about what it means for Hanna and I to be putting down roots in this city. We both moved here for graduate school and have stayed for the professional opportunities Boston's cultural institutions have offered. Moving within the city -- out of the apartment Hanna originally selected with her grad school roommate -- feels like choosing or re-choosing the city as a place we want to live in, make a life in.

I find myself inhabiting the city with new eyes and new investment. I'm no longer thinking about it as a space I move through as an observer. Rather, I've become a participant. Although I'm still learning what it means to me to participate in the life of this city that has become our chosen home.

A short list of things I've (we've) been doing that feel like part of that learning process:

  • Walking, biking, taking public transit. Hanna and I are both committed to using the city "at ground level" if we're going to be living in it. We map the neighborhoods by foot and measure our progress in coffee shops passed. While I don't think owning a car precludes one from belonging to the city (clearly many drivers are Bostonians!) not having a car means we're more reliant on public infrastructure within the core urban area, and that space and time get measured differently. By necessity, we need to shop for groceries, pick up our library books, visit our doctor's office, meet up with friends, get our hair cut, all within a three-mile radius and ideally between point A (home) and point B (work). This is a fundamentally different way of experiencing the geography of one's life than when life requires daily driving -- I lived the first twenty-seven years of my life in a car-dependent town, so I've experienced this shift first-hand.
  • Supporting local non-profit organizations. It probably says something fundamental about our socioeconomic backgrounds that as soon as Hanna and I reached a sustainable level of income and could start thinking about charitable donations, the first thing we did was become members of our two local NPR/PBS networks (WGBH and WBUR). It was reflexive: this is what adults do. Yes, National Public Radio is a nationwide network, but each station is local too. We wake up to the local weather forecast and enjoy the broadcasts of America's Test Kitchen (filmed in studios next door to one of our favorite coffee shops!). We currently give (tiny!) monthly gifts to WGBH, WBUR, and Classical New England, all of which broadcast out of the Boston metropolitan area. We've also chosen to provide ongoing support to Black Cat Rescue, our favorite no-kill foster cat program here in Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Food Bank. I'm also starting to get involved on a volunteer basis with our community health center, Fenway Health, which provides nationally-renowned health services to LGBT folks, women, at-risk teenagers, and the elderly of the Fenway neighborhood and greater Boston.
  • Relying on local non-profit organizations. There's a lot of high-level philanthropy around Boston, including at the institution where I work, and I've been thinking a lot lately about the notion of "charitable giving" and the distance it implies between those who selflessly give to those in need. That kind of giving (hopefully with no strings attached) obviously has its place, but I also like the immediacy and intimacy of providing support for those whose services we need now, or in the future: our health center, our public library, the social safety net. I've been doing a lot of research lately into housing programs here in Boston, both grass-roots advocacy organizations and government-funded programming. In doing so, I've have the opportunity to reflect on the importance of using as well as passively supporting social services of various kinds. Even though Hanna and I are (at least temporarily) middle class professionals, it seems important to me to know how my city cares for the marginalized; how we could be cared for if we became marginalized.
  • Learning local history. When in doubt, turn to books! I've been reading, reading, reading up on the history of the Boston area and learning how its past has shaped our present and will continue to shape our future in the decades to come. 
What are the ways that you've gotten to know the place(s) where you (have) live(d)? What components need to be in place for you to feel like you belong to and are invested in a place, a community?

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