Downtown View: Neighbors Meeting Neighbors

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It’s familiar, yet always surprising. Downtown residents seem to have an enormous capacity for inventing ways for neighbors to get together. Sometimes it is to do good. Sometimes it is for conversation. The byproduct is that these efforts always strengthen the sense of community and make our lives richer.

Let’s take what is happening the North End with dog owners. They have founded an organization called RUFF, or Responsible Urbanites for Fido. In case the name isn’t enough to make you like them, you’ll be even happier with their existence when you learn what they do.

They advocate for dogs, but they also advocate for people. Every month they hold a cleanup where they pick up not only the dog doo, but also weed flower beds, trim bushes and scrub the hardscape. They clean up parks. They celebrated Halloween by dressing up their dogs. They pressure other dog owners to pick up their dog’s mess and take it to a proper trash receptacle, rather than dropping it into a storm drain. They cleaned up the Richmond Street dog run. They have proposed a dog park on the northern end of the Greenway, and judging by their energy and community spirit in the few short years since their beginnings, they’d take good care of it. And while dog owners easily form a community without an official organization, RUFF members have taken that benefit to a whole new level.

On Beacon Hill a group of women, led by Lisa Macalaster, formed the Beacon Hill Women’s Forum last spring. They’ve gathered monthly since September, listening to such interesting speakers as Denise Faustman, M.D., who directs the Immunobiology Labs at MGH, and BPL President Amy E. Ryan, the first woman to head the library. The membership is now reaching about 100, and the forums have attracted about 75 women each time. Women of all ages attend, which was one of the goals of the founding board—to connect the young with the old and everyone in between. There is an undercurrent of pride in the accomplishments of the speakers, but also the pleasant feeling of being in a room where some of the people are friends, and the rest of the people might become friends.

Diane Valle of Charlestown is a different kind of a person who builds community. Her organization wasn’t designed to be long lasting, but it might end up being so. She gathered scores of gardeners, scrounged daffodil bulbs, and managed to get a community of planters to put about 100,000 of those bulbs into the ground along the Boston Marathon route so they’d bloom in time for this coming April’s race. Those who participated in donating money to the cause or doing the actual planting became a part of an unusual, temporary community.

Marathon events always brought Bostonians together. Last year’s specific events did so in a way no one ever anticipated. (Isn’t it interesting that a destructive act does destroy, but it also builds community? Terrorists, take note.)

This April, Valle’s daffodils will bloom, nod and sway and boost the beauty of the route. And they will multiply in coming years. So many memorials are kitschy and embarrassing. The daffodils are neither.

Whether initiated by one person or many, community efforts like these make us all richer.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.

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