Neighbors May Have Difficult Days Together

I stepped out my front door in the middle of the afternoon last week, heading toward downtown to do some errands. At the sidewalk, my path joined a neighbor’s. He was walking home from errands he had just finished in the opposite direction.

“What do you think of the new view from our street?” he asked, pointing behind him at a five-story building rising up a block east of our street’s dead end.

“I like it a lot,” I replied, not expecting anything. My neighbor seemed more than surprised — startled is the word that came to my mind.

As we walked toward his house, he slightly stuttered in disbelief. “Uh, what do you like about it?”

I’m trying to recount exactly what was said, but I wasn’t taking notes. My brain raced through several responses to what I still believed was an honest question.

I’m pleased we’re getting more density in our end of town, built on our major thoroughfares. I’m glad that we’ll have some apartments that are not being built with students in mind. I know a little bit about the developers and the sorts of restaurants or retail stores they’d like for the ground floor. And the design for the building seems like it will enrich our local mix.

The response I gave was a split-second summation of all those reasons: “I like cities.” I’m not one who believes in trigger alerts, especially between neighbors engaged in sidewalk small talk. But I wished for one at that moment.

“Then why don’t you move to one?” Now it was my turn to be startled. This man and I have been neighbors for 20 years. Both of us stayed put as our families were reshaped. We both obviously love where we live.

“I’m sorry,” I said, putting my hands in the air. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Too many people have told me they like cities lately,” he replied. “Why not go to Seattle, instead of making us into Seattle? We’ve been working for 30 years to prevent that from happening. You like that building on that end of the street? How about another high rise on the opposite end? And then they can open our street, so we have lots of traffic. Is that what you want?”

Right about then we reached his house and he split off up his driveway. I shook my head and we waved at each other, awkwardly.

Eugene’s growth into cityhood has been a flashpoint of controversy for decades. My neighbor and I lean in opposite directions but I didn’t think of us as polar opposites. We felt like polar somethings at that moment, given the sudden chill in the air.

I don’t normally share stories that lack an ending, but this is a case where we’ll all be finishing this story together. I’m not suggesting one side is right and the other is wrong. I’m saying it can’t be that simple. Whether it’s noise or crime or traffic, we’re all having to make adjustments — and that’s not easy.

I won’t be moving anytime soon. My neighbor won’t either. How can we — and others like us — stay in dialog? How can we help each other, even if we don’t have the same vision for where the changes might lead us?

I imagine we’ll find common cause again, when the crumbling asphalt needs patching, or when everybody wants to know how good is that new restaurant opening beyond our dead end. We’ll make do. Everybody does.

What about the feelings that were tapped between us? Marriage counselors draw a line between dismay and disgust. Every time we discover that somebody close is different from us, we have to make adjustments. Leave the differences alone for too long, and the risk grows that one person will begin thinking of the other one as “bad.” That’s very difficult to work your way back from.

The importance of the disagreement is not a factor, nor is the degree of separation between views. Only our response matters. Any discovered difference can lead to the same homophonic choice. Which will it be? Discussed or disgust?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at