"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

How to Create Cultural Capital in a Poorer Neighborhood

Last week, a storm ripped through Indiana and several other states, 91-mile-per-hour winds knocking down scores of old trees and, with them, power lines, roofs and cars. Our home was out of power for almost five days, during a heat wave of humid temperatures in the high 90s. While our two babies slept upstairs, we watched the storm roll through our neighborhood. We live near the downtown of Fort Wayne, Ind., a small city of about 250,000 people. Our house and yard are modest, and we have many neighbors visible through the windows. The sky grew black at 3 p.m. We heard a frightening crack, looked outside, and saw a 50-year-old tree riven through the neighbor’s car across the street. It was all over less than a half hour later. The babies had slept right through the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard and pre-tornado winds. Then, the neighbors started to come out. We live on a street among several blocks of lower-middle-class families. At least half our neighbors are what we now call minorities but will in a decade or two be the majority. A few houses look as if renters have had their way for decades, but most are at least decent, and everyone keeps his yard neat. Even our bachelor next-door neighbor trims his deformed little shrubs. Our other next-door neighbor, Bill, has probably the best house and yard in the neighborhood. They have a good-sized outdoor pool, trellises, a children’s playhouse, and five dogs, all visible and audible through our kitchen window. After the storm, Bill walked out with his chainsaw, and started for the neighbor’s fallen tree. As he buzzed, about six younger neighborhood men came out, including my husband, as if irresistibly attracted to the noise and mess. When they saw Bill clearing the car and street, they spontaneously started to lift the cut limbs away onto the sidewalk. Later, several grabbed rakes and brooms to shift the glass away from where tires tread. In about two hours, the road was clear, the car was safely parked aside, the insurance pictures were taken, and cars could get through again. When we talk about the wealth people have, it is false and foolish to measure it only by their annual household income, as most official measures do. Bill’s chainsaw was old, but it solved our problem without government expenditure—though I would call it a “public” expenditure, since our neighborhood actions were public services, too. They just didn’t require taxes or mandates. More thoughts in this thread to come in part two.