Grape on the Block
Small suburban cities. Intimate, family-owned brick-and-mortar businesses, where everybody knows your name. It’s ironic that the much-loved television show, Cheers, which finished its run twenty years ago, offers us a vision of things to come: tight-knit community, sharing life experiences, engaging over alcoholic beverages. Last year, in my personal blog, I wrote about a group called Better Block:
The Better Block project started in April, 2010, when a group of community organizers, neighbors, and property owners gathered together to revitalize a single commercial block in an underused neighborhood corridor. The area was filled with vacant properties, wide streets, and few amenities for people who lived within walking distance. The group brought together all of the resources from the community and converted the block into an interactive neighborhood destination for people of all ages. The project was complete with bike lanes, cafe seating, trees, plants, pop-up businesses, and lighting.
Jason Roberts, founder of the Better Block Project said of his work, “(We) dreamed of a walkable, bikeable community where business would flourish and outdoor spaces would encourage meaningful interactions.” Indeed the project has flourished with Better Block communities popping up all over the country. The project was developed to show the city how a block could be revived and improve area safety, health, and economics if ordinances that restricted small business and multi-modal infrastructure were removed. Since that time, Better Block projects have been developed throughout the nation with many of the temporary infrastructure improvements and businesses made permanent.
But why stop our redevelopment with single neighborhoods. Consider the work of Joel Kotkin, professor of urban development, currently a fellow at Chapman University in Orange, California and the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank. He authored THE NEXT HUNDRED MILLION: America in 2050, which explores how our nation will evolve in the next four decades. He postulates that suburbia is the future, but not the lonely, wasteful landscape of the past. In Kotkin’s vision the suburb of the future is fashioned from vital elements of the big city and morphed into small, village-type areas, much like what the Better Blocks project has built. And I can’t help noticing a trend here: Across the nation, smaller cities within larger metropolises, where people interact with their surroundings and with each other because their physical and emotional lives depend on it.
Hope for Utopia
Looking over Better Block’s work and Kotkin’s vision, I find myself examining an interesting paradox. When cities have lost their shine, we head to the countryside. When the countryside is too quiet, we head back to cities. The solution could be the creation of a space that allows for city living while maintaining the heart and soul of a countryside. Perhaps this is the utopia we’ve all been searching?
In the sixteenth century, Thomas More’s book, Utopia, proposed an ideal society of the same name. Some have chosen to accept this imaginary society as the realistic blueprint for a working city, while others have presumed that More intended nothing of the sort. Some think that More’s Utopia functions only as satire, a work intended to reveal more about the England of his time than about an idealistic society. This particular interpretation is easily confused between the Greek for “no place” and “good place”: “utopia” is a compound of the syllable ou-, meaning “no”, and topos, meaning place. So what we really have here is the implication that the perfectly “good place” is really “no place.”
So is “utopia” unobtainable? Perhaps the point is not to create utopia, but the journey involved. And as a wine professional, I can’t help but think that the grape has a place in this “Almost Eden.”
It wouldn’t be the first time wine has saved “paradise.” Thomas Lake Harris founded an American Utopian Community called Fountaingrove in 1875. Described by its founder as a “Theo-Socialist community,” Fountaingrove was established in Northern California on 700 acres, two miles north of Santa Rosa, dubbed “The Eden of the West.” Hippie consciousness aside, what is most interesting to me about the community were the vineyards. After five years of failing in the dairy business, the Fountain Grove Community planted grapes and their winery became an economic base. By 1886 they produced over 70,000 gallons of wine a year. It seems that even in utopia, a little alcohol-related relief is welcome.
Maybe these old and new “utopias” aren’t so far off from the original Cheers concept.
And Thomas More did have the typical Brit sense of humor so his Utopian society may not exist, but what does and what we strive for is a place where they know your name and what you like in your glass. Cheers!
Tina Morey, partner
PROTOCOL wine studio