By Iesha Alspaugh
“As a sociological entity a neighborhood is distinguished from a residential area by the degree of social organization among the residents. Unlike a neighborhood, a residential area has few or no patterned relations among residents. Residential areas may become neighborhoods and vice versa depending on the viability and extent of the network of social relationships among residents” (1).
It is clear that relationships among residents are an important component of neighborhoods. The Riverside-Normal City neighborhood can be defined as just that: a neighborhood. The patterned relations among residents within the Riverside-Normal City neighborhood and the degree to which those relationships are developed may indicate the ways Riverside-Normal City can be viewed as a neighborhood rather than a residential area.
In over fifty interviews conducted with residents who currently live in the Riverside- Normal City neighborhood, or who had lived in the neighborhood at some time, a common thread recurred: a good majority of the interviewees stated that relationships among residents was a primary quality that made a neighborhood desirable to live in. From the interviews, it becomes clear that there is somewhat of a significant relationship between residents to the capacity that a majority of interviewees mentioned knowing at least one person in the neighborhood; almost always a neighbor in close proximity to their own home. These relationships looked very different depending on who was being interviewed and who that person’s neighbors were, but relationships among residents in the Riverside-Normal City were clearly emerging as a distinct theme.
The RNC is different in that its residents are both students attending Ball State University and permanent residents ranging from young couples to people of retirement age. It goes without saying that many non-student residents had a lot to say about their relationship to students living in the neighborhood. There is no single way of describing this relationship. Some residents mentioned that they loved having students live in the neighborhood, primarily because living around students brings a type of liveliness or energy. However, the same residents who loved living around students for these particular reasons also mentioned some downsides to having students live in the neighborhood. Among the downsides of having students as neighbors criticism such as how students keep their rental homes, litter, and students participating in party culture emerged as prominent themes. Some non-student residents in the neighborhood did not have the same perspective–that there were predominantly positive things associated with students living in the neighborhood–and were primarily critical of students who lived in the neighborhood. Some of these residents mentioned wishing to move out of the neighborhood, or knowing people who had moved out of the neighborhood as a way of moving away from students. Both groups of permanent residents mentioned wanting to be more involved with students despite their criticisms. There is a hope from a lot of these residents that students will get more involved in the neighborhood.
Another factor emerging in the relationship between permanent residents and student residents was how many permanent residents actually knew students living in the neighborhood. In an interview done with Beth Messner, she says, “My relationship with my neighbors is primarily with owners of the homes. I don’t know, I mean I recognize students that I see” (2). Along with Beth Messner, other permanent residents mentioned perhaps being introduced to student residents, but very few mentioned having significant relationships with student neighbors. This shows that some permanent residents of the Riverside-Normal City neighborhood are interested in at least knowing their student neighbors, despite their transiency. Many of the interviewees who mentioned introducing themselves to their student neighbors described those students as friendly and polite. Katie Heilman, a younger permanent resident in the neighborhood says, “the students tend to interact with neighbors and we have experienced that” (3). This further shows that permanent residents and students are aware of one another, sometimes may interact with one another, or even have a stronger relationship than occasional small talk or introductions, but because few, if any residents mentioned relationships in which they would consider themselves friends with student neighbors, it is hard to say how strong relationships among permanent residents and students residents are.
Bill Morgan is a permanent resident in the neighborhood, is the former president of the RNC Neighborhood Association, and has lived in the neighborhood for a number of years. He spoke about a relationship he had with student neighbors:
“The house behind the corner [had] four boys living there a couple years ago. And they would put a sticky note on my door and it would say something to the effect of ‘Joey is turning 21 today, we are having some people over, please let us know if we get too loud’ and I would never hear a peep out of them, and they would do this several times throughout the school year. One time I got a sticky note ‘we are having a graduation party, let us know if we are getting too loud’ and I bumped into them outside. And I said ‘would you guys step up your game? You put these notes on our backdoor and I sit inside my house feeling sorry for you because you can’t throw a decent party.’ Mostly we have had really good kids living near us and stuff, but a lot times students are annoying to homeowners and it’s not like they are trying to be, but they don’t know any better” (4).
This interview furthers the belief that perhaps permanent residents feel acquainted with students enough to speak with them, and even joke with them, but may not have a relationship with them beyond this. Further, from this interview, and others like it, it became apparent that many permanent residents, like Bill Morgan, feel acquainted with students and enjoy living around them, but wish students were more involved in maintaining the neighborhood rather than disrupting it.
While the relationship between non-student residents and student residents is a popular subject in the Riverside-Normal City neighborhood, many permanent residents appear to be more concerned with non-transient neighbors in creating community in the neighborhood. Many permanent residents mentioned knowing their immediate neighbors and being able to rely on those neighbors in times of need. When asked about their relationship with their neighbors, Jeff and Andrea Eads said, “I do love the faculty and the older neighbors that live near us. I feel that they have been great, especially Tom and Bobbi. They have been to Dorothy’s (their youngest daughter) plays; we went snorkeling with them. We also live by two dance professors and we went to performances because we talked to them. Sheryl, who lives across the street from us, is a flight nurse in Indianapolis so that’s awesome” (5). Jeff and Andrea Eads have lived in the neighborhood for almost ten years, and Jeff currently serves as the President of the Neighborhood Association. Andrea’s answer demonstrates the ways in which permanent residents in the neighborhood interact to build relationships with one another, furthering the distinction between residential areas and neighborhoods, and solidifying Riverside-Normal City as a neighborhood.
There is no one way of understanding how these relationships emerged, ranging from participating in activities such as being out in resident’s yards, walking dogs, spending time at the dog park, approaching neighbors directly, neighborhood activities, and attending Neighborhood Association meetings. There was also a wide variety of responses to knowing people in the neighborhood prior to moving into the neighborhood. Some residents mentioned moving into the neighborhood because they had some relationship with someone already living in the neighborhood. Others mentioned moving into the neighborhood without any prior knowledge of other residents. Scottie Limbird, a newer resident in the neighborhood and the owner of a business in Downtown Muncie mentioned wanting more friends to move into RNC and discussed loving that friends with kids had recently moved in just down the street (6).
Heather Williams is a permanent resident in the neighborhood. She has participated in developing neighborhood associations throughout Muncie and currently works as a liaison between Ball State University and the city of Muncie; attempting to build a stronger relationship between these two groups. In describing how RNC is different from other neighborhoods in Muncie, Heather said, “we are all across the map but I see us as very open and interested in learning from each other” (7). Her comment shows the ways residents view the neighborhood’s identity as being associated with people who live in the neighborhood and their relationships with one another. It also serves as a way of showing the ways people living in RNC are interested in developing those relationships further, again demonstrating the distinction of neighborhood from residential area. Many of the interviewees mentioned appreciating the diversity of the neighborhood in that there is nothing that really characterizes permanent residents. There is a belief among residents that diversity in the neighborhood includes different economic statuses, different backgrounds, and a wide variety of ages. Many of the residents who mentioned at least one of these segments of diversity said that the diversity added to the cohesion of the neighborhood by providing incentive for neighbors to learn from one another and to understand each other on a deeper level. Among the different age demographics, middle-aged families mentioned being aware of different families in the neighborhood for the sole purpose of having their children befriend one another. Scottie Limbird and Heather Williams are a great example of this. Having the diversity of older residents, younger graduate student residents, and middle-aged to young families added to the comfort of the neighborhood, but it also goes a step beyond comfort. The relationships, developed despite differences, show the ways that perhaps the RNC may be unique as compared to other neighborhoods. This distinction transcends the difference between neighborhood and residential area, and points to something probably far more valuable, which is the ability to have a relationship with someone–going to their dance recitals, having young children play together, attending neighborhood association meetings together, watching over a neighbor’s house while they’re away–knowing that there is no common denominator between the residents of RNC other than the space they share in Muncie, Indiana.
Encompassed in the desires for the future of the neighborhood is a piece of what many residents believe the answer to the question what makes a good neighborhood is: strong relationships between residents. The relationships between the residents in the Riverside-Normal City neighborhood demonstrate the ways an area moves beyond residential and the ways we learn to care for people that have seemingly nothing in common with us.
1. Kent P. Schwirian, “Models of Neighborhood Change,” Annual Review of Sociology 9, (1983), 84.
2. Interview with Beth Messner, interview conducted by Abby Clark and Savannah Myers, November 9, 2016
3. Katie Heilman, interview conducted by Iesha Alspaugh and Abby Clark, October 20, 2016
4. Bill Morgan, interview conducted by Amber Janzen, November 8, 2016
5. Andrea and Jeff Eads, interview conducted by Iesha Alspaugh and Leslie Thomas Jr., October 27, 2016
6. Scottie Limbird, interview conducted by Katie Harper, October 25, 2016
7. Heather Williams, interview conducted by Mia Nickelson and Chelce Carter, October 16, 2016