Balancing cohesion and openness

Balancing cohesion and openness

Children run through the lawn sprinklers in front of the Intergenerational Center on a summer day at Hope Meadows. Photo credit: Alex Harris

A GHC is not an enclave or a campus. Like any healthy neighborhood, it functions best when it is integrated with its surroundings, both architecturally and socially.

Blending in

A GHC provides a reliable form of social support for its residents, who enjoy lives both inside and outside the neighborhood. This blending is crucial to its social purpose — the better integrated it is with the surrounding community, the less the stigma associated with the purpose it serves.

That said, a GHC must still do what it can to buffer its residents from adverse external influences. This, after all, is a key reason for its existence.

Wes Smith, in his book Hope Meadows (2001, p. 4), wrote:

At first glance, Hope Meadows appears to be merely another comfortable, middle-class neighborhood of look-alike brick homes in the blue collar, central Illinois town of Rantoul. It could be the setting for a Gap Kids commercial: children of all colors parading around on bicycles, tricycles, and roller blades while an equally diverse mix of parents and elderly neighbors sit sentry in lawn chairs or stand watch behind picture windows with the curtains drawn back.

“A community so old-fashioned it’s, well, new…” was the description Ted Koppel gave Hope Meadows when Nightline came to visit, and indeed, the normalcy of it all is underwhelming. This, too, is by design.

For two decades, visitors to Hope Meadows tell how they have driven right through the neighborhood without realizing that they were at their destination. One older resident who, as Wes wrote, “was sitting sentry,” laughingly told one out-of-state media reporter, “If you had driven by one more time I was going to call the police!”

Holding together

While fitting into the surrounding community is vital, it is necessary to manage boundaries as well. One GHC had an after-school program. Many of the children from the neighborhood who came to it brought behavior problems with them due to their troubled pasts. They also began to bring friends from school who lived in other neighborhoods. These children also often had behavior problems. After a while the number of children and the number of problems became too much for the after-school program to handle and still achieve its primary mission of addressing needs of the children who lived in the GHC. Ultimately, the program had to limit the attendees to residents only.

In another GHC, a basketball court eventually was re-purposed because it was attracting too many older teens from the surrounding neighborhoods that made it unsafe for kids or older adults to participate. These examples demonstrate the balancing act sometimes necessary in striving for cohesion while stopping short of insularity.

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