For many, the word community implies some sense of cohesion or group identity. As time and economics rearrange the spatial and physical markers that represent and support community cohesion, how do residents of Thurston Woods maintain their identity? What has change meant for the construction of community identity?
We have chosen several prominent locations, which either no longer remain or have been repurposed, to examine their effect on the sense of community in Thurston Woods. These chosen places have changed significantly and now exist only as remnants of what was once a place where people could walk or bike to a local entertainment or recreational space. The entertainment and recreational places inside Thurston Woods have been reduced to a small percentage of what once existed.
It became clear when interviewing residents of Thurston Woods that commercial, recreational and other communal spaces were important to the building of a community identity for the Thurston Woods neighborhood. Today, there is a desire for those once-present spaces such as McGovern Park swimming pool, local entertainment on Silver Spring and shops along Villard Avenue to return. These spaces, as physical and social constructors of community, reveal that local places matter in the creation of pride and belonging. When pools are closed, schools are abandoned, or retail shops leave the area, everyone must leave the neighborhood to fulfill basic needs; the sense of place will begin to decline. The neighborhood becomes a bedroom community on the outskirts of an urban area where no one feels invested.
Is that what we are seeing here?
With heightened mobility comes a geographically dispersed social and spatial network. What would once take hours to reach by bus, trolley, or foot now takes minutes by car with little to no waiting. Many claim that this makes the world a smaller place. People can “get out” and see more things, but at what cost? Large, multi-use consumer parks draw large crowds to commercial centers, but what happens to the places left behind?
For there to be pride in a neighborhood and a strong community identity, people must stay in the area. There must be economic investment as well as emotional investment. Thurston Woods neighbors are emotionally invested in their community, but they still leave to find social and recreational venues. Traces of these once popular venues and places act as mementos of social experiences, but they no longer function as spaces that construct contemporary community identity.