I live in a neighborhood that is among the poorest in Columbus, Ohio, Franklinton. I moved here to live amongst the poor, writes Richard Gallenstein.
It has astroundingly high unempoyment and about a fourth of thehouses are boarded up.
I moved here to join in the work of an organization called Franklinton Gardens which runs a small urban farm in this low income neighborhood. Last summer, before classes started, I spent my days working on the farm and getting to know my neighbors. It was a very simple life and it was immersed in a community that most people would hate to live in. This has been a powerful experience for me in many ways. One of the ways is that I have grown in my appreciation for the message of Distributism and the Catholic way of life. I have learned these through seeing the aspects of community that exist here and I believe that it would be of tremendous benefit to the Church if all Catholics learned from this neighborhood.
First I have to admit that Franklinton has many problems, as one would expect. There is a relatively high crime rate, some gang activity, entitlement mentality, drug abuse, high unwed fertility rate, etc. The economy is very bad and most of the economic activity carries money out of the neighborhood. Most people rent their houses and the owners live outside the neighborhood in the nice suburbs and rarely take care of their properties. All the local businesses and corner stores are owned by out of towners so the money leaves with them. The list goes on. But despite all of its flaws there is a refreshing amount of life here. Life that inspires me.
When I walk out my front door in Franklinton and walk down the street I encounter person after person, neighbor after neighbor. People are on their porches and neighbors are walking down the sidewalk to meet up with other neighbors. The streets are often filled with children playing. Every time I leave the house I am bombarded with neighbor kids who want to play. In the year that I have spent here I already know far more of my neighbors than I knew in the neighborhood where I grew up for 22 years. There is a reality of community here.
I have been in and driven through many suburbs in my life but none of them have been like this. They are often barren, lifeless places. You might see an occasional person watering their lawn or someone jogging. But mostly they are quiet and impersonal. Few children playing and few people outside. Certainly no streets filled with people sitting on their front porches talking to each other while their children are playing. People are often trapped under the oppression of their TV’s and video games. Or people are away from homes busy with other things. Their houses can be miles away from the nearest place to shop or do activities so everyone has to drive everywhere. Walking isn’t an option. And it seems like the richer the neighborhood gets, the drier and more lifeless the neighborhood becomes. The bigger the houses are, the bigger the yards are, the less community there is.
A new and strong Catholic subculture is beginning to emerge out of the dust of the last few decades. Positive trends are being seen in the quality and quantity of seminarians and in new lay movements like EWTN and Campus/youth ministries. This growing subculture is promising and yet it needs more. The growing Catholic subculture needs to build authentic and rich communities. As we seek to strengthen Catholic families we also need to strengthen communities of families that can continually support each other. We need neighbors. Catholic families need to raise their children around other Catholic families where their children can play freely with each other. When I am in Franklinton and I see children playing on my street and rows of houses with people sitting on their front porches talking to one another, I see community.
I look at Franklinton and I have a vision of a Catholic Community. Imagine if the Church, in a very tangible way, was right outside the front door.
- Richard Gallenstein
Distributism and the Inner City (Distributist Review)
Columbusite (Wikipedia CC 3.0)