When new in town, it can be difficult for some people to adjust or get involved in their new community. I have never been welcomed with a plate of cookies, but I’ve never felt like a stranger either. Even when I moved away from home for the first time, I made it a point to wander, mostly on foot, to learn about what was around me. Doing this I found a train bridge, a food co-op, and a little coffee shop with the best vegan carrot cake I have ever eaten in my life. In that little city, I also saw homeless people, youth tripping on acid by the river, and was threatened with a gun by a man in his boxer shorts because he assumed that I was going to ditch a shopping cart on his front lawn.
So, maybe you are not ready to put yourself in that kind of situation. How else do you find out about the place you are living in and how everything around you, well, works?
One way is by contacting and/or joining a community alliance or civic association. These groups work on neighborhood-specific issues that can range from home ownership to taxes to rodent control. These organizations also provide information about youth and senior activities and services. I know that discussing the conditions of sidewalks is not as riveting as, say, a little scandal in City Hall, but if you’re a runner, a broken sidewalk is a daily problem for you, whereas, some official’s third cousin twice-removed selling drugs while vacationing in Belarus is not really an immediate concern.
I recently joined one of these and received a welcome folder in the mail. Inside I found: restaurant coupons, which sector of my neighborhood I’m in, dozens of phone numbers, a Park to Park brochure, information about recycling and safety, a newsletter from the Knox Parks Foundation, and the organization’s most recent newsletter. Right now I’m looking at a neighborhood-specific guide for who I can call when I have an issue. Although there is a citywide number that I can call–311–for non-emergency concerns, it’s not a direct way to resolve issues. Now, I have numbers on hand to call should I feel the need to report drug activity, guns, free range dogs, rodents, no heat, or any number of housing violations. They provide this helpful piece of advice: “Reporting a problem to several departments will help assure greater attention to the issue.”
They also include numbers for the domestic violence hotline, child abuse hotline and psychiatric crisis services. There are direct numbers to report problems like broken streetlights and traffic signals, illegal dumping, and clogged sewer grates. I am mentioning all of this because I am psyched to have this information, but think sending this same info to all city residents should be mandatory. Enough with the full color glossy self-promotional postcards, Mr. Mayor! Instead, just send us something we can use!
To learn about the community/civic association in your area, check out these websites:
Blue Hills Civic Association
South Hartford Community Alliance (covers Parkville, Frog Hollow, South Green, Behind the Rocks, Barry Square, Sheldon Charter Oak, South End, South West, and South Meadows)
West End Civic Association
Back to the story– no shots were fired that day, and I have not experienced anyone’s shopping cart-induced rage since in my wanderings. Where I am living now, I have found a number of things on foot that I never would have learned about had I relied on either the media or even word-of-mouth.