Where the ‘street’ has no name, but deep meaning

By Douglas Cornish

A photo of a child running through a puddle to illustrate Douglas Cornish column about the significace of neighbourhood streets. Photo is by Doug Banks

Confucius is believed to have said the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of a home. Who can argue with a Chinese 6th-century (BCE) philosopher when his ancient words still ring true? The neighbourhood street, in all its complexity, is the backbone of society. People always remember their neighbourhood street, even when they move away from it.

They never really move on, though. People will drive to the old neighbourhood just to look at their street, even though it’s probably changed since their day. Sometimes people will even bring their kids just to show them where they grew up. The street is sort of a missing link, a neighbourhood bloodline running invisibly through generations.

Lessons learned on the street carry on throughout life.

Street sense

Even though people generally refer to where they grew up or lived as the “street”, it might be a crescent, drive, private, court, road, or place, etc.

“Street” is a better term because it’s less pretentious and harkens back to days when the street was a playground and an experience. Of course, it does depend on where one grew up. Dead-end streets are usually quieter and more village-like than a busy thoroughfare.

The neighbourhood street soothes, moulds, strengthens, and enlightens young minds with the character and appreciation of coming from a stable place.

Sometimes people don’t realize the contribution a street has made until after they grow up, and that might be the intrinsic nature of a neighborhood street. As Joni Mitchell sang, we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone.

The neighbourhood street is a microcosm of society itself, as Confucius alluded to.

Its makeup is a sometimes diverse and complex mixture of politics, religion, and world viewpoints.

Despite sometimes conflicting beliefs, the neighbourhood street often eclipses confrontations that otherwise might arise. People with different ideas seem to blend into the ‘street nationality.’

It’s a quirky part of human nature; people with opposing ideologies can be next-door neighbours because, on a neighbourhood street, we all must get along. The shared street is where we live and where we come home to every night. The neighbourhood street can educate and enlighten people; years later, we might realize how much our street influenced our life.

Long and winding

Although folks usually speak of their street in generic terms, not all streets are the same. Some are short, some are long, some are winding, and some curve around. The shorter ones are village-like, the longer ones sometimes have a different feel in each section.

Some streets produce lifelong friends. Others have quiet neighbours who keep mostly to themselves. Some have kids, some don’t. Much like society itself.

Confucius also said, “Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.” The neighbourhood street is not always the destination. Some neighbours remain for years, and some streets even have generational ties to the street. In the end, it’s not how long you’re there, because it’s all part of your journey. That’s where the meaning of destination and journey sometimes come together.

Life on the street

Neighbourhood streets are living organisms; they change and grow. The so-called ‘feel’ or persona of the street is often enduringly stable. This feeling attracts newcomers and sustains long-standing residents. Neighbours come and go, adding their world view to the street’s personality. The street of one’s salad days, when they were young and green and foolish, may not be the street of today.

The old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” can be applied to the neighbourhood street. Our surroundings play a subtle but profound role in our development. From time to time if you glance back in the rearview mirror, that distant street where you lived or grew up inexplicably comes clearly and happily into view.

You may leave the street, but the street doesn’t always leave you

“The street is sort of a missing link, a neighbourhood bloodline running invisibly through generations . . . Lessons learned on the street carry on through life.” Photo: Doug Banks