As I walk, a startling number of people greet me from front porches, often set back 20 feet and somewhat obscured from the street by shade and screens. I’d never have known there was anyone watching. But there they are.
Moving at car speed abstracts all this into a blur: houses that are, in fact, very different from each other become homogenous “little boxes,” lives become statistics. And the same thing happens when you view a neighborhood through the abstraction of maps and statistics, as planners and policy makers do. Of course, the information on maps and in statistics is important, too. But it’s incomplete. There is so much happening everywhere that is inherently illegible to someone operating at that remove.
That illegibility matters. Consider the question of “neighborhood revitalization.” What is the low-hanging fruit thing that you could do in or around your own home that would raise its value by, say, 2% this year? The thing that would make it an incrementally better place? I bet you have ideas. Okay, now what is that thing for your next-door neighbor? Do you have any idea?