Issue 12: You Need a Friend

Melody WarnickUncategorized0 Comments

A few weeks ago, at the Virginia Festival of the Book, I did a placemaking activity where I had passersby fill out cards that said, “I live in ______________ and this is why I love it.” People dashed off answers like:

  • “Diversity & inclusiveness! We welcome everyone!”—Decatur, Georgia
    “Because the people are welcoming and the food is delicious.”—Houston, Texas
    “It is full of interesting people who’ve built a close-knit, lively, supportive community that feels small-town.”—Montclair, Virginia
    “Because it’s home.”—Crozet, Virginia
  • Then there were the outliers. A few people stood there for a while, stumped. A military spouse told me that, actually, she hated her city, thank you very much. One woman carefully crossed out “love” and penciled in “like,” comfortable with admitting only the vaguest of warm feelings about her place. Some visitors, like water balloons, needed just one little prick of curiosity for them to leak their struggles all over the place, most of which boiled down to this:

    “I don’t have any friends here.”

    Oh. I get that. How I get that.

    One of the women I interviewed for This Is Where You Belong, an eminent placemaker in her own right, described moving to a new state like this: “There was a real sense of grief, because I realized, oh my gosh, no one within a ninety-mile radius would care if I died.” That feeling of loneliness is at the heart of all the crazy chaos around moving to a new place, all the disconnection we sometimes feel from the place we’re in: We’re lonely.

    In the May 2017 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, Mary Pauline Lowry describes making kombucha with a neighbor’s “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” a SCOBY. Imagine a sourdough starter, like a ball of goo that gets passed and divided and passed along again. (Holy cow, you can buy a SCOBY on Amazon. Why do people drink kombucha again?) When Lowry moved to Boise from Southern California, she posted on a local message board asking for Idaho SCOBY, and the woman who gave it to her become a running buddy. She shared the finished kombucha with a neighbor, who later invited her to brunch. Instant friends.

    Kombucha as ice breaker may be weird, but probably the weirdest ways of meeting new friends work best. People are everywhere. What you need in a new place is a tribe. People who speak your innermost language, by loving Star Wars with your same intensity or homeschooling their kids with your same little-known philosophy … or loving kombucha. Your people. To find them, you have to be keenly aware of what’s meaningful to you, what thrills you, and who you are at your core. Your tribe is probably hanging out in the places you already love to go (farmers market, movie theater, river), doing the stuff you love to do.

    Do you have a tribe where you live? How have you found it? I’m asking for real. A friend and fellow journalist is looking for sources who moved to a new city for a job and can talk about the weird way they made friends there. If you can help, email me at email hidden; JavaScript is required and I’ll put you in touch and be your kombucha friend forever.

    7 items of interest

    1. What if all the construction fences in your city were an art gallery?
    2. Why we’re mistakenly nostalgic for Main Street—and how maybe online work is the way back. Wut? Then there’s this argument for making delight, not cost, the center of all your decisions.
    3. For those of you still daydreaming about it, 11 bloggers talk about the challenges of moving to New York City.
    4. More divisive than red vs. blue in our nation right now is urban vs. rural.
    5. Even introverts can learn to love/like/deal with their neighbors.
    6. Your town definitely needs a remakery.
    7. If I saw these bikes in my town, I’d have a happiness freak-out.

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    Issue 11: Steal This Strategy

    Melody WarnickUncategorized0 Comments

    A woman I met told me about moving her family and her mother from California to South Carolina a few months ago, buying and selling “four properties in three cities in two states” in a whirlwind process that left her drained and exhausted. You wouldn’t blame her for holing up in her (river-view) study and practicing yoga breathing for 11 months. Instead, she’s created this fantastic strategy for developing place attachments.

    She asks everyone she meets one important question. She says, “What do you think a new resident really needs to know, do, or experience here to become part of this community?”

    What she wants is one piece of advice. One place to visit. One food to try. She’s been compiling a list of the answers and—here’s the clincher—doing them. “It’s a way for me to integrate into the community,” she says. “I think of it as a guide to being Southern.”

    So here’s my one piece of advice: Steal her strategy. Start talking to strangers and asking this question. Where should I eat? What shop should I try? What event should I not miss? Even when you’ve lived in your community forever, (a) it’s a much better ice-breaker than “How about this weather?, (b) it gives other people a chance to build place attachment by acting as ambassadors/braggarts for their town, and (c) it’ll make you realize that your community is swimming in hidden pleasures and treasures you need to experience.

    7 items of interest

    1. Fifty reasons to love walkable cities.
    2. There’s a movie coming out about urban planning heroine Jane Jacobs, and it looks fantastic.
    3. IMHO, nothing is more indicative of a city’s openness (one of the three most important place attachment drivers) than how it treats its refugees.
    4. My husband complained about a pothole the other day and I thought, “We really need this app.”
    5. From my publisher: The United States of Books, an under-construction guide to novels and nonfiction set in every state. It’s the perfect companion to this state-by-state literary blog I’ve been following for a while.
    6. “There is a growing hunger for connections, for rootedness, for places that are special and not interchangeable.” Architects are on board with placemaking.
    7. Would you move for a better school district like these people did? P.S.—Why am I so obsessed with the New York Times Real Estate column?

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    Issue 10: The Third Way to Fall in Love with Your Town

    Melody WarnickUncategorized0 Comments

    There’s a study I talk up all the time that found that you’re most likely to be place attached if your city does three things well: social offerings, aesthetics, and openness. People tend to understand the first two. It’s the third one, openness, that causes problems. Even after I explain that openness means your city welcomes all kinds of residents, sometimes people are like, “Huh?”

    So here’s a concrete example. For a while now I’ve been volunteering with the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership, a group that’s committed to helping refugees build new lives in our community. Next week two Afghani single moms and their three kids will move here, a thrilling development slightly complicated by the fact that these women speak a variant of Farsi, while we volunteers do not. Translators are imperative to this work. In a few minutes of googling, I found that there is an Iranian Society at Virginia Tech, and I sent an email asking for Farsi-speaking volunteers.

    Eight emails piled up in my inbox within a few hours. These Iranian students were so eager to help.

    That’s openness, in a nutshell. And it’s really making me love Blacksburg today.

    7 items of interest

    1. These best friends built a row of tiny houses as their own private vacation commune. Would you do this? How would you decide if someone was vacation commune-worthy? BTW, here’s the poetic argument for having two homes.
    2. Do those “best city” lists even mean anything? (Shameless self-promotion: I’m quoted in this one.)
    3. Millennials are actually moving less than previous generations, for a counterintuitive reason.
    4. “The middle of Ohio didn’t turn out to be my escape, but it was the beginning of a new kind of life.” How our fantasy cities don’t always match reality.
    5. A world map that exchanges place names for song titles and yes I want it. (Although maybe I didn’t need to know there was a song called “Dead Loss Angeles.”)
    6. England is going to build 14 garden villages—brand-new towns from scratch. Now they have to decide what they should look like.
    7. In Chicago, a nonprofit program takes underprivileged teenagers to parts of the city they’ve never explored before. You wouldn’t think that would be as mind-blowing as it is.

    Issue 9: Welcome to Minnesota, Here’s Your Hat

    Melody WarnickCool projects, Moving, Placemaking0 Comments

    Moving to a new city is like walking into a party where you don’t know anyone. You’re secretly hoping everyone’s going to fight each other for dibs on being your new best friend, and when that doesn’t happen (because does that ever happen?) you end up hovering near the metaphorical hors d’oeuvres table, wishing someone would please acknowledge your existence.

    You’re not alone. Pretty much everyone experiences that I AM UTTERLY ALONE moment when they move to a new city. Then you make friends, your brain resets, and you develop amnesia about how hard it once was.

    Artist Jun-Li Wang remembered. She transplated to Minnesota from California and, not surprisingly, hated it at first. The one thing that made her feel physically and metaphorically warmer in her new homtown was a fake fur–lined hat. Maybe, she thought, it would help other newcomers too. So she started the nonprofit St. Paul Hello. Every couple months, the group invites new St. Paul residents to a ceremony where they’re presented with, yes, a hat. So far they’ve given away about 600.

    So here’s the goal: Give other people a hat. Metaphorically speaking. Give them whatever little bit of friendship or instruction made you feel at home in your town. Tell someone about your favorite secret park, or give them a map of all the traffic-avoiding shortcuts. Invite them to a party and tell them you want to be their best friend.

    Or literally give them a hat. That works too.

    7 items of interest

    1. Eventually the weather’s going to turn nice. When it does, you should become a Front Yard Person.
    2. “Much of how we learn about one another as a society comes from physically being together in places like skating rinks.”
    3. How food (and a PBS TV show) saved a Southern town.
    4. A TEDx talk about a city that’s converting an abandoned railroad track into 22 miles of walking and biking paths.
    5. Mouse-sized shops in a Swedish city! Can you survive this level of adorable?
    6. Books are important, but this little free food pantry that a family set up in front of their house makes a strong case for a more practical sort of neighborliness.
    7. “We rescue pianos and put them on the street for everybody to enjoy.” Do this right now.

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    Issue 8: It’s Hard to Love Your City When It’s Cold Out

    Melody WarnickBlacksburg, Love Where You Live experiment, Place love0 Comments

    On Wednesday it was 62 degrees here in Blacksburg, and it felt like the earth had been reborn, and all of us right along with it. A teacher at my daughter’s school said, “This weather is tricking me into being happy.” After the bell rang, families lingered. Kids swarmed the monkey bars while their parents peeled off the layers of coats and sat in the sun on the blacktop. I took an extra-long walk and lifted my face to the sun, so grateful.

    I don’t need to tell you that today it’s 31 degrees and snowing rabbity pellets of ice.

    Why is it so much easier to feel happy in sunshine? Not to mention to practice the behaviors that increase place attachment? So many of them revolve around good weather. It’s easier to hike when the ground isn’t mucky, or to start conversations that strengthen social ties when you’re hanging at the park. In Blacksburg, the farmers market is still open once a week, but who wants to linger there now? We’re all a little bit grumpier and worse for wear.

    Here’s a possible solution. I mentioned in my last newsletter a story I’d written for CityLab about the Danish concept of hygge, or comfort and coziness, especially in winter. I boiled it down to four principal components: warmth, light and color, access to nature, and gathering places. Consider it your cheat-sheet to staying sane during February.

    I hygged myself this week. (Yes, it’s a verb.) After the weather shifted again to frigid, I took my daughter and her friend to the town aquatic center. Normally I relish the fact that, hey, they’re 10; I can read a magazine deckside without getting my hair wet. But there’s a hot tub at the pool, a major source of wintertime joy, so I climbed into my swimsuit and soaked the grumpiness out of my bones for a few minutes (and even talked to a stranger). Turns out they have a sauna there, too. It smelled like camping and dry wood. Winter became a little less grim.

    7 items of interest

    1. Pothole gardening. Yes please.
    2. What would you include in a #10SecondTour of your town?
    3. Solid advice for making friends in a new city; it’s place attachment research–approved.
    4. Save your gathering places.
    5. Resolutions for being a better citizen.
    6. How technology erodes community.
    7. “The marriage of good design and civic pride is something we need in all places,” from one of my very favorite TED talks.

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