Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bringing Down Borders

Jane Jacob’s assessment on borders seems to be quite valid for any city. She writes, “Often borders are thought of as passive objects, or matter-of-factly just as edges. However, a border exerts an active influence” (157). Jacob’s assessment of borders is a reality, and it is true that the results will be rewarding if we try to eliminate these borders, whether they are physical or not.

Jacobs writes, “The true trouble with borders, as city neighbors, is that they are apt to form dead ends for most users of city streets. They represent, for most people, most of the time, barriers” (259). In The Women of Brewster Place, the wall is a symbol of limitations, which leads to the women’s decision to tear it down at the end of the novel. When they tear down this wall, they are declaring that they will not allow barriers in their city. They crave interaction with the rest of the city, as well as respect. The tearing down of the wall shows the determination of these women to change their reputation with the surrounding communities. They wish to end the cycle that they have always been a part of. They understand that borders are inhibiting. Jacobs mentions that borders do not allow “continuous mingling of people, present because of different purposes”. Borders prevent streets from interconnecting, thus preventing the entire city from association altogether. Sadly, “ [the border is the] only device that encourages districts to form a place of fragmented, self-isolated neighborhoods or backwaters” (259). People erect borders within their city because they want to be surrounded by what is familiar to them. They want to close off the outside world, so that they can live an isolated life. In Krik? Krak!, the boy and the girl are able to exchange letters to each other regardless of the distance that separates them. Clearly, borders are not an issue for them. They transcend the brokenness of their homeland of Haiti, which is very divided by borders. Likewise, Danticat is trying to disintegrate the borders we erect by calling out to a universal audience. She is trying to connect with us by yelling Krik!, in hopes that we will display our attention by replying Krak!. She wants to connect with her audience without anything prohibiting this-race, class, etc, so that we can understand her message. Marco Polo sees a similarity with every city he visits in Invisible Cities, which shows his ability to transcend the borders that may be in place within and outside of each city. Following this pattern, Kolvenbach’s mission for the entire Jesuit community is centered on interaction with the city, which is aimed at eliminating or somewhat breaking the borders of cities. In No Longer at Ease, Obi attempts to transcend the borders his village creates, but they do not allow him to do so. Clearly, borders are an inevitable part of cities. Whether these borders are physical, racial, economic, or cultural, they do exist. However, accepting these borders does not have to be a part of our interaction with the city. We must strive to overcome them.

When we do our service, we are challenging the borders that are within our city. If we leave the popular areas of Baltimore and traverse to the less populated edges of town, we are making use of that wasted space that Jacobs despises so greatly. If borders are rendered useless by sections, it seems as though the only solution would be to join everything within the city, so that there are no more borders whatsoever. Is this really possible? Perhaps it is not. However, it is possible to remove some of the barriers that are present within the city. Blurring, if not eliminating the lines that divide our cities inside and out, seems to be the ultimate way to aid in their survival.