With the right rose-colored glasses, one can literally change one's perception about the place where one lives. In order to feel some pride in her new town, Melody Warnick decide to develop a tour of places she could showcase to out- of- town visitors. She posted a simple question on her social media accounts, "What's the #1 thing you'd tell a tourist to do in Blacksburg?" So, I decided to do the same thing. I posted the very same question about Worcester on my facebook page. Within a couple of hours, Worcesterites were having a party in the flurry of comments back and forth. Some people mentioned the standard places (Worcester Art Museum, Ecotarium). Others left the borders of our city for fun (Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Purgatory Chasm). Several people mentioned things to do that I had never heard about before (a tour at the Regal Pickle Factory on Mason Street, stargazing with the Aldrich Astronomical Society at Anna Maria). In less than a couple of hours, my friends had generated a sizable brainstorm of cool things to do in our gritty city.
Want to feel more attached to Worcester? Find someone like Tony or Fatima who know how to feed you outside of your own home and kitchen. Forget the chain restaurants and find the little places way-off-the-beaten-track where you can get to know the owner, the chef, the people who wait the tables. A special thank you to Chris Robarge. Within half an hour on facebook, we riffed off of each other, generating this starter list of restaurants. Some are well known and others are as yet undiscovered gems. Let’s eat local!
Remember why Melody Warnick advocates for us to fight for the little things in our cities and towns. Getting political locally helps ground us in the places where we live. Sit on a city advisory board. Testify at a Tuesday city council meeting on an issue you care about. Speak out for more trees, better train service, more consistent trash collection. Attend a local rally. When we dare to take a stand on a Worcester issue, we place another stake in making our city a place where we want to live.
It is the quality and intensity of our real and lived social connections that can make or break our attachment to a particular place. Neighbors sometimes pick up the slack for those of us movers who are far away from family, creating a neighborhood culture of caring that binds. It only takes one or two residents to help spark a shift in a neighborhood. Block parties, collective yard sales, book clubs, game nights, seed exchanges, barbecues are all ways to build neighborhood cohesion. Melody Warnick describes a neighborhood that has had weekly Sunday night dinners for years. This tradition started with five families and has since grown to over fifty families. The host family is in charge of cooking, set up and clean-up. People come within walking distance and share that one meal together each week. If one is feeling a bit anti-social, one can just bring a Tupperware container and take the meal to go.
What about deflecting $50 each month to local stores for things you would need to buy anyway? What about not heading on autopilot up to the Solomon Pond Mall or the Millbury stores or Walmart or Home Depot?
Do you remember the walking man on Salisbury Street? More than five years ago when I brought my son to daycare at the Jewish Community Center, I saw him, a middle aged man who dressed in a starched business suit and swung his briefcase during his fast strides. He carried an umbrella in the rain. He wore heavy boots in the snow. For two years of day care morning drop-offs, he was a regular fixture on the street, heading in the direction of downtown. One morning, I slowed the car down, opened the window and called to him to ask about his story. He confessed walking an hour each way to his downtown office and relished the fact that he didn’t need any gym membership. He was in the best shape of his life and loved taking it hare-like down Salisbury as everyone else fast-pedaled. Is he still walking now years later? I no longer have a reason to go down Salisbury during rush hour.
If you go to the Sociology section of the “new release” shelves at the Worcester Public Library, you may find the book I just returned entitled This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. Exploring the “lost art of staying put”, author Melody Warnick ponders how the place where we live can become a place where we are rooted to stay. How do we feel connected to the towns and cities where we reside? How do we shift from living in a particular place to making a commitment to staying? Warnick is obsessed with these questions of “place attachment” because she herself never felt settled in any one city or town to want to make a permanent home. There was always the hope in the next move for a better locale where the weather would be perfect, the cultural life rich, the nature abundantly lush and beautiful, the people fascinating and welcoming. After all her moves to what she believed would be the “perfect place”, Warnick comes to think she was all wrong. Maybe there is no perfect place but just maybe one can learn to stay still long enough to love the place where one is.