Vernon Downs, the 411-home subdivision on the city’s far west side south of Stadium and north of Scio Church, had an Independence Day parade this year. About thirty preteen and younger kids rode bikes or wagons and twice as many parents and grandparents marched on foot. Many folks dressed in red, white, and blue and carried or wore the flag. There were at least as many dogs as kids, and everybody was smiling, even the dogs.

Nothing like that ever happened when my wife and I first moved here with my three teen and preteen kids eighteen years ago. Built in the early 1960s by developer George Airey, Vernon Downs originally swarmed with young families–city attorney Stephen Postema grew up on our block, walking to nearby Dicken Elementary. But by the turn of the millennium, most folks were in their late sixties or older, and we found ourselves the youngest family on our block.

Except for a few couples who moved in without kids, things stayed that way as our neighbors aged in place. Most of the kids going to Dicken were bussed or driven in, and there were no other kids here for mine to hang out with. Vernon Downs was a nice place to live, but it hardly felt like a neighborhood.

That started changing just before the pandemic hit. One family moved in next door and then a second down the block. A third moved into the cul-de-sac down the street and a fourth into another across the street. More followed, and most brought a couple young kids with them or had more here. Even the couples without kids got dogs.

By the time we all hunkered down last spring, there were upwards of twenty kids here from preteens to babes in arms. And what diversity: there were black, white, and mixed-race families plus a big Afghani family the federal government brought here before the U.S. troop withdrawal.

We all became neighbors during the pandemic, and by last summer everybody was walking, talking, and hanging out together. Fire pits appeared in driveways on Saturday nights, and folks gathered with their kids, dogs, and discreet alcoholic beverages to stay up late talking and laughing. More than one Sunday morning I woke to find a “beer-a-mid” of empty beer cans stacked neatly on our front porch. My wife and I had turned in before midnight–because without our noticing it, we’d become just about the oldest folks in the neighborhood.

After a long, cold, lonely winter, vaccinations made summer glorious, and the neighborhood is livelier than ever now that friends can come over for dinner. Folks are still walking and talking while kids swarm the streets and cul-de-sacs on scooters, bikes, and roller skates. Out-of-state friends and family visit for the weekend and stay up past midnight enjoying one another’s company. And on Independence Day, families ended their parade in a park eating red, white, and blue ice pops. What could be more neighborly?