Myself, My Neighbourhood

The MA in Euroculture, Krakow is proud to organise the photo shoot session, “Myself, My Neighbourhood”, a visual project part of the Felicjanek Street Fest on September 8 at 3pm.

A collective happening to assert and foster the feeling of belonging to a place, the Felicjanek Street Fest in Krakow, is an initiative put forward by local residents and supported by local businesses. It aims to gather people from the vicinity and make them aware of their neighbourly potential, increase their mutual contact, encourage exchange and share a convivial, open space where a multitude of voices, talents, ideas and ideals can converge.

As a expression of this neighbourhood ideal the photographic project, Myself, My Neighbourhood, conceived by Juan M Sarabia explores the concept of a neighbourhood and its role in a modern urban community.

The project will collect a number of portraits through a photo session, as well as opinions and impressions about what a neighbourhood is (means).

Stranger or friend, passer-by or resident, the Festival and the Photo Session welcomes anyone interested in sharing, opening up and asserting themselves as active citizens, members of a community and friendly neighbours.

Come and have your picture taken and tell us what a neighbourhood is (represents) for you.
Photographer: Analía Szuldman (Argentina)

Myself, My Neighbourhood Project Form
After having your picture taken please answer this short form.

Myself, My Neighbourhood
by Juan M Sarabia Gtz.

In mathematics a neighbourhood is the set of points whose distance from a given point is less than (or less than or equal to) some value. According to this definition and following the algebraic analogy we could say that a neighbourhood within a city is a set of people whose distance from a given converging point is less than (or less than or equal to) the distance from that converging point to the point where that given neighbourhood’s border adjoins that of another one. Although this might be a very simplistic approach to a social construct and reality, the explanation of the three highlighted elements in the definition will shed light into the idea and concept as well as the processes that it entails.

A Set of People (A Community)

This is by far the most relevant element in a neighbourhood. The people that conform it and whose behaviour, interactions and interpretations of life expressed through their needs, wants, tastes, views, opinions and sharing capabilities weave the fabric of a cordial, shareable, urban environment. There are a number of sociological explanations on how a given community comes to being and include socio-economic, cultural and political variables. Occupation and lifestyle among other factors might explain for instance why young professionals, couples and students tend to choose central places, whereas newly married and families are inclined to move towards the periphery in suburban areas. Whichever the reasons for the formation of a given social cluster, it’s important to stress how a sense of belonging arises and spreads out through the community and its members through different individual and collective manifestations, which are in turn an expression of their shared common values and beliefs.

To understand the relationship between a community and a neighbourhood and the idea of how the former does not presupposes the existence of the latter, it is important to pay attention to the action of sharing. A community might exist and its social bonds and contracts could be perpetuated by the simple awareness of the common values and beliefs (which could be limited) of its members. For a neighbourhood and a neighbourly sense of belonging to exist the members of a community must not only be aware of their commonalities, but also be prepared and willing to share and attest them. It is then that not only a collective sense of belonging, but also an individual pride of belonging arises and the set of people becomes a neighbourhood.

In times where processes such as globalisation and localisation tend to converge and permeate social phenomena, neighbourhoods have become an important focal point in issues such as identity building, socio-political participation, citizenry and governance. This is even more poignant in heterogeneous, cosmopolitan communities, where ties to a certain place or behavioural patterns are the result of a mix of origins, languages, associations, imaginations and memories. In such a context the horizontality of a lively shared neighbourhood is stronger than an imposed vertical, layered set of ties (i.e. European, regional, national, urban, local).

A Converging Point (A Cafe)

A city has its main square, a suburb a playground, a district its parks and public spaces, a neighbourhood its streets, sidewalks and corners. The scale and nature of a converging point is determined by its area of incidence, its practical and symbolic use and the recurrence with which it is asserted as such within a community. A main square then could feature historical, political and cultural elements with which citizens can identify with and through which tourists get a glimpse of the local values and social Weltanschauung: cathedrals, government buildings, monuments and historical sites alluding to national memory and heritage amongst others. A district may display in a similar way elements related to its coming to being such as mobility and exchange and stress the importance for instance of a certain economic activity: trades and crafts, industry, commerce or services. In a suburb the practical need for open recreational spaces for families is met with parks and playgrounds where the obvious commonalities in lifestyle are shared and expressed. The reasons why a certain monument, a cafe, a park or a playground become a converging point for reunion, exchange and socialisation often include an authority’s will and a social need or drive: that is, a bidirectional force from the top-down and from the bottom-up.

In the case of a neighbourhood, however, the establishment of a converging point, be it a cafe, a pub or any public space is usually agreed upon implicitly and collectively by its dwellers and its reasons are endemic to their lifestyle, values and beliefs: the driving force goes therefore from the bottom-up. In neighbourhoods of cosmopolitan cities or urban districts with a considerable number of foreign dwellers, cafes (cafeterias, pubs) are usually the place where the sharing of time, experiences, and tastes happens. Due to the heterogeneity of these communities their commonalities aren’t only determined by a shared historical past and national pride, but are founded as well in common experiences, general tastes and the individuals’ choice and will. In other words, it is a prosaic convergence which lays in the now and recurs to imagination rather than memory to (re)create a convivial, open and inclusive space.

A Border (A Constellation)

To better grasp the concept of a neighbourhood’s limits we must understand the border not as something fixed and static but as something flexible and fluid and not as something that divides but rather that diversifies. In the initial proposed definition distance is what unifies, separates and bounds all at the same time. Distance is what provides space and configures constellations, clusters of people and places with an acquired specific symbolic meaning and purpose. A neighbourhood’s border is then determined by the constellations that form within it and around one or several converging points. These constellations aren’t fixed as the ones we gaze upon the firmament and which are an amalgam of myth and science, but rather like those traced by an imaginative, curious and playful mind and the product of reality and chance. The extension of a neighbourhood could spread as much as the connections between it’s members reach out and have an effect on their daily life. Once again the act of sharing is what strengthens these connections and diffuses the neighbourly pride and sense of belonging: sharing time, experiences, know-how, space, services, fears, needs, drives, impulses, work, dreams. A neighbourhood’s border lies there where the sharing effect ends, where connections begin to grow weak; however, it is exactly in that point where other connections, constellations and converging points are already in place.

To Share (To Be a Neighbour)

Awareness, contact, empathy, will and sharing. In brief this is an understanding of the progression of how a neighbourly sense of belonging could arise. Proximity and daily shouldering makes inhabitants of a building, street or district aware of their mutual co-existence (and social similarities) and triggers a background mental process of wondering how is it that they (we) need each other. This set of people, aware of one another, begin to experience sporadic contacts that bring to the fore their common wonderment and, in some cases faster than in others, a feeling of empathy germinates. All of this within a common area and in socially determined converging spots, such as cafes, markets or parks. Once an individual is immersed in this socially constructed environment and feels proud of being part of its rhythm, lifestyle and identifies his or her own defining traits with those of the group, the collective need to attest and demonstrate their nature as a whole starts to broth. At this point it is the individual and group’s will, creativity and imagination that foster sharing.
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