South Kilbourne’s neighborhood association president says maybe it’s time to get back to her “dad’s days,” when neighbors looked out for neighbors. But first Michele Huggins has to break through her neighbors’ apathy.
By Charnita Mack
Nov. 11, 2015
The reality of numbers for the head of South Kilbourne’s neighborhood association brings a sense of disappointment.
In the Rosewood-area neighborhood with several thousand people, Michele Huggins says maybe 20 to 25 show up at a typical neighborhood meeting. But Huggins says that to help South Kilbourne’s future, maybe it’s time to get back to her “dad’s days” when neighbors looked out for neighbors.
“You can’t leave your kids outside and expect neighbors to watch out for them like when my dad was growing up,” Huggins said.
Despite the low turnout, South Kilbourne is the only Rosewood community that holds meetings regularly, and getting people to them is the first step so they can discuss any problems, she said.
Councilman Moe Baddourah, whose district includes South Kilbourne, said he thinks most neighborhoods solve most of their problems just by meeting and talking.
“Neighborhoods are kind of like a democracy before the city gets involved,” he said.
Huggins, who has led South Kilbourne for five years, may have her work cut out for her at a time when some researchers say social capital and community involvement are declining.
With his controversial 2000 book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” political scientist Robert Putnam argued that generational changes and the time squeeze of American families were partly to blame. Some critics said he was ignoring some new forms of social capital, though.
Jenna Stephens, head of the Rosewood Community Council, has seen it across the area’s four neighborhoods.
“People don’t usually show up unless something is wrong,” she said.
South Kilbourne has a mix of working and middle-class families, and college and graduate students. Most of the homes were built between 1950 and 1969, according to census data, and their small lots mean people are more likely to know their neighbors.
Most of those who come to South Kilbourne’s meetings are older and have lived in the neighborhood for over a decade.
But Mitzi Borman, 26, has lived there just since June and says she comes because she cares about what goes on.
“I’ve seen drug deals being made,” Borman said. One she said she still remembers was four doors down from her home.
Some others at a recent neighborhood meeting also complained of rising drug problems. Huggins said children aren’t safe in some parts of South Kilbourne and that she worries for her neighbors’ safety. She hopes they can start a neighborhood watch program (PDF).
A close-knit neighborhood “gives us another set of eyes to keep the neighborhood safe,” Baddourah said.
The neighborhood association has met at Hamilton-Owens Airport so residents throughout Rosewood also feel welcome. But it doesn’t make much difference for Mollie Schmolze, who doesn’t go to the meetings.
“I don’t feel like it’s necessary when there are Facebook groups for your neighborhood where you can stay up to date,” ‘Schmolze said.
USC sociology professor Matthew Brashears agrees with Putnam that generational differences are helping to reduce community participation, but he doesn’t think less participation means people care less about their community.
“I think the nature of community has changed,” Brashears said. “It’s not that we don’t care about community, but how we define and participate in it may be changing.”
Deborah Livingston, Columbia’s community development director, says some neighborhoods have used branding and logos to get better participation, combined with successful organization.
“It’s our goal for each of our neighborhoods to be as highly organized as possible,” Livingston said. The city has community liaisons willing to help neighborhood leaders get more participation, she said.
Huggins has been using Facebook and neighborhood social media site Nextdoor to get more people to attend neighborhood meetings regularly, but she is considering going door to door. She’s also thought about having block parties.
Most days, you can catch Huggins sitting on her porch, waving to passers-by. Most of her neighbors don’t take the time to do the same.