The sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls parks, coffee shops, libraries and other shared urban venues “third places” (home is the first place and work the second place). His contention is that the health of a given city can be measured by the strength and prevalence of these “third places.”
In the 1930’s during the height of the Depression, residents of my neighborhood would venture into Druid Hill Park on hot and humid nights to sleep by the lake. It is a summer tradition that has long since been abandoned, but the park, our “third place,” remains an essential resource for those of us who live in Reservoir Hill.
Today, after what we native mid-westerners would call a “healthy” snow fall but that Baltimoreans might call a blizzard, Miriam and I took our two children, joined another Reservoir Hill (and Beth Am) family and went sledding in the park. We found a lovely, mostly treeless, hill on the frisbee-golf course and took turns trudging up and zipping down the hill on our inflatable snow tube. I’ve heard it’s an urban myth (that’s English for bubbe meiseh) that the Inuit people of Alaska have a hundred words for “snow,” but if they did, today’s accumulation would be called that-which-is-firm-enough-for-tubing-yet-perfect-for-building-persons-of-snow-descent. It was a glorious morning culminating in a perfect cup of hot chocolate.
The preservation and betterment of community are core Jewish values. But could it be that the New Jewish Neighborhood is defined, in part, simply by a willingness to show up – to pull on the snow boots, blow up the snow tube and trudge through the virgin snow with friends? Sacred communities must have goals and collective, achievable dreams, but being together ought to precede doing together. Some move to the suburbs to have more space. People like me, who grew up in the suburbs, move to the city not to have space but to share it.