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COMMENTARY | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

The Concept of 'Community' Has Curbside Appeal

September 14, 2002|ROSANNE WELCH | Rosanne Welch is a writer-producer whose credits include "ABC News Nightline," "Picket Fences" and "Touched by an Angel."

When my husband and I first moved to California 17 years ago, we parked our rented moving truck in front of an affordable apartment in Van Nuys, and we've never left. Yes, there was that four-year stint in an apartment in North Hollywood--another underappreciated area now trying to renew its dignity--but when we bought a house six years ago, it was just a few blocks from our first apartment.

Most of my neighbors have been here for more than 10 years.

Most of them work hard, and most of their children or grandchildren are working their way through college. We ride our bikes nightly and walk to the library, which has a great reference section in town because it services the local courthouse.

As much as I love many of my friends who have vacated this Valley, I can't help teasing them about living in places where the houses "are all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same." Most of the folks I know who live in Valencia have spent their early home-owning years embroiled in lawsuits with developers who used cheap steel pipes in their plumbing or warehouse-reject wood laminate on their floors.

Most of them lock their doors even in the daytime. None of them feel safe enough to let their kids play in those postage-stamp front yards or to sit on those "old-fashioned" front porches and visit with neighbors.

But my 4-year-old is constantly running over to watch one neighbor work on cars or help the other water her roses in exchange for a handful of candy. He races his remote-control truck with three other boys on the block and skateboards in the neighbor's driveway.

My friends in that other Valley sit in traffic for an extra hour these days; all those great mountain views advertised when they first bought their houses have been cobbled into other subdivisions. Some of them have just learned that there will be no room for their children in the local public schools, so they'd better start signing up at a few private ones.

I don't live in Van Nuys because I can't afford to live anywhere else. We bought this house when my husband was a cog in the corporate wheel and I was a secretary on a string of cop shows. Now he works for himself and I have my own secretary, but we haven't hopped over the hill into some other location. Why, you may ask. Because I know this neighborhood is a reflection of the real world, and I want my son to know how to live in 2050, not 1950.

I proudly call my neighborhood the United Nations because the folks next door are from Armenia, across the street they're from Japan and kitty-corner they're from Belgium. Every one of them has been available in a pinch to watch my son or help jump-start a dead battery or loan me a ridiculously cliche cup of sugar when I was making a cake. They've helped us search for a lost cat and brought my Mom pastry when she was baby-sitting for my son one night. Every one of us watches out for each other and would call the cops in a heartbeat if someone was messing with the cars in our driveways or the roses in our yards. If that's not a reason to stay, I don't know what is.

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