But maybe not in the way you were thinking…

He walked to work.  When he entered the house, he changed his shoes and put on a cardigan…a ritual to symbolize he was about to begin something special. 

He connected learning and growing to being a part of a community.

He visited friends in the neighborhood to learn new things and meet new people.  Friends stopped by to drop off interesting things that he asked to borrow or they thought he would like. 

He frequented the local bakery, music shop and other neighborhood businesses and turned those visits into learning opportunities.  Those business owners often hosted special events in their stores to feature other local artists.

His “educational” visits weren’t so kid-centric that they involved the over the top silliness that we seem to think kids require these days like dancing characters or goofy high energy songs.  Mr. Rogers introduced jazz and cake decorating and ballet and violins…all through the people in his neighborhood. 

He asked questions.  He modeled how to ask people about themselves and their work.  A page right out of Dale Carnegie and still the best way to engage others and learn. 

He held the role of neighbor up as something special.  It meant kindness, respect, sharing resources.  Granted, some of his “neighbors” were a little unsual.  Hyperactive Mr. McFeely comes to mind.  Just like in the real world, our neighborhoods have their “characters”. Even characters play an important role in a neighborhood, helping to ad to its identity and flavor.

Mr. Rogers sat on the front porch or front steps and waved to passers by.  He played games on the sidewalk.  People walked by with their dogs or rode by on bikes.

Maybe that’s why many in my generation are drawn more and more to walkable urban neighborhoods with coffee shops and other shops. While we were watching TV in the 70’s, the grownups were building suburban neighborhoods that were more conducive to driving a car to the store or playing with other kids just like us in our own cul de sac.  Not too many characters here. 

But we have a longing to be somebody’s neighbor… to wander into Joe Negri’s music store and hear an impromptu jazz session…to be recognized by the store clerks and to be waved to on the street…to be taken care of at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.  We have that familiarity of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood buried somewhere in our childhood brain cells and it feels right. 

Mr. Roger’s fictional neighborhood held a richness of daily life that some of us get to experience today and some of us don’t.  As a whole, we have become more and more fearful of people we don’t know which make it more difficult for us to participate in a “neighborhood”.  That fear creates isolation.

Mr. Rogers’ modeled interacting with people.  We can model the same for our children. 

When children are known to others, it feels good.  They walk a little taller.  The world is a little friendlier.  People notice when you’ve lost a tooth or that you got a new bike.  There are friendly faces when you have a school fundraiser and have to test your salesmanship skills or just get up enough courage to get words out of your mouth. 

The impact of our “neighborhood” or lack thereof  goes so deeply into how we feel and how our children feel about themselves.  And it really comes down to the physical forms that we as planners and developers have created. 

So, I don’t know if Mr. Rogers really thought about all of this when he was creating his show and its fictional setting.  But I suspect he did.  He had the gift of distilling things down to their basic elements…in the way he spoke to children about feelings and the songs he wrote…in his intentionality of his daily rituals…in the way he asked others questions.  I think he completely understood the immense learning opportunities presented by a diverse and walkable neighborhood.  And he was decades ahead of planners in the 70’s who were busy designing something much different.