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'The American Dream Starts With the Neighborhoods': Why Harvey Milk is the Patron Saint of Neighborday

You may have heard we've declared the last Saturday of April "Neighborday" and we're encouraging you to spend some time that day getting to know the folks who live near you. The day will be a celebration of that basic human inter-connectedness that powers great neighborhoods—the kinds of places where we all want to live.

Overlooking Duboce Park in San Francisco sits the Harvey Milk Center for the Recreational Arts, a monument to a man devoted to creating thriving communities, one block at a time. One of the outside walls of this building contains a fragment of a quote from a little known speech he made in the early days of city politics: "The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods." You'll find the full passage from this speech below, and we suspect you'll see why we've taken Milk's thoughts as inspiration for our Neighborday celebrations.


Let's make no mistake about this: The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods. If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living. To sit on the front steps--whether it's a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city--and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color.

And I hardly need to tell you that in the 19- or 24-inch view of the world, cleanliness has long since eclipsed godliness. Soon we'll all smell, look, and actually be laboratory clean, as sterile on the inside as on the out. The perfect consumer, surrounded by the latest appliances. The perfect audience, with a ringside seat to almost any event in the world, without smell, without taste, without feel--alone and unhappy in the vast wasteland of our living rooms. I think that what we actually need, of course, is a little more dirt on the seat of our pants as we sit on the front stoop and talk to our neighbors once again, enjoying the type of summer day where the smell of garlic travels slightly faster than the speed of sound.

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Illustration by Jessica De Jesus
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