It is not down in any map; true places never are”. Herman Melville
Five Blocks Square – Some years ago my husband and I attended a conference with Andres Duany, architect and urban theorist, who said that the average person won’t walk more than five blocks before getting into their car to shop for groceries, drop by a café for coffee, visit the gym, or experience any of the essential joys that make our neighborhoods livable places.
That got us thinking. What could we do within a five-block walk of our urban home in the Poverty Ridge neighborhood of Sacramento?
Poverty Ridge is nestled smack dab in the central city, a mostly residential area, full of Craftsman bungalows, depression area cottages, and post sixties apartments. The only people who seem to walk it are dog owners, Alzheimer patients who wander away from the residential facility next door, and lady power walkers from the DMV, almost a mile away.
So the infinite possibilities we discovered on our own forays surprised us.
We can spend a quiet afternoon at a historic library, visit the mansion that Joan Didion grew up in, buy antiques at a monthly market held under a busy freeway, eat in neighborhood dives and cutting edge cafés, drink at a gritty corner bar, take a tour of the local newspaper, or jump on light rail to any other place in the city.
And whom might we run into during these walks? A documentary film maker, writer and voice over actor in Coen brothers movies; dean of the UCD Medical school; a private investigator; a one-time sketch comedian; a surprising amount of college professors; the publishers of a citizen journalism web site, and an eighty-five year old woman who lives in the house she was born in
In the nearing fifty years my husband has lived here neighbors have included Patty Hearst on the lam with the Symbionese Liberation Army, writer Todd Walton, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Secretary of State March Fong Eu, Mayor Richard Marriott and at least one prostitute who propositioned him in the alley.
A hundred years ago we might have met the captains of Sacramento industry, Judges, and department store owners living amongst brewers, tanners, farmers, day laborers and immigrants from all corners of the world.
Across this grid of just five blocks by five blocks, there is layer upon layer of history and an array of architectural treasures, flora and fauna, topographic anomalies, food ways, and un-chartered political and cultural terrain for urban explorers like us to discover.
The two of us have made a decision to stop and smell the century-year-old roses in our neighborhood and write and illustrate our way through it, block-by-block, story-by-story.
We’re challenging you to map your own neighborhood and uncover its historical, cultural, social and political significance.
Submit hand-drawn maps, illustrations, anecdotes, stories, poems, photographs or other detritus of any five-block square area in the world. Make it personal. Explore where you live now, your childhood home, cities you yearn to visit, and neighborhoods from the miraculous to the mundane. Send your material to firstname.lastname@example.org.