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A Home in the Heart of a City: A Woman's Search for Community Hardcover – August, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain--home to the author of this thoughtful meditation on the importance of community in today's urban environment--possesses the characteristics demographers predict will dominate the American urban landscape by 2025: 41 percent of its inhabitants are college graduates and work as carpenters, plumbers, teachers, artists, drug dealers, police officers, etc. The neighborhood has one symphony orchestra, two community theaters, three libraries, one arts center, six art galleries, 18 playgrounds, 19 churches, and two bowling lanes. Fifty percent of its residents are white, 33 percent Latino, 17 percent African American; 31 percent of the neighborhood's inhabitants fall below the poverty line. And it is in this incredibly diverse, wonderfully offbeat quarter that Kathleen Hirsch has found a place to belong.

Hirsch moved to Jamaica Plain, or "J.P." as its residents call it, in the summer of 1990. It is, according to the author, "a snob's no-man's-land, a Boston neighborhood down at the heels for so long that only its loyalists can quite see its quirky charms." Hirsch becomes one such loyalist, as she introduces the members of the community that help to make J.P. so special, from the urban gardener to the local storeowners to the lawyer turned community advocate. In an age when people feel more isolated than ever, this eloquently rendered personal journey through a city neighborhood demonstrates that community is neither as inaccessible as utopia nor a convention of yesteryear, but a real possibility for the present and the future. --Kera Bolonik

From Publishers Weekly

Hirsch has written of homeless women in Songs from the Alley and now she reports on one woman's home?her own. Her portrait of Jamaica Plain, a 5.5 square-mile neighborhood in urban Boston, is full of nostalgia and soft colors. She loves JP, as Jamaica Plain is called locally, and the feisty community that has held on in the face of urban rot. As she reconstructs the many small but vital triumphs won by zealous individuals, she also offers fascinating portraits: Eddie Ortega's transformation from drug dealer into the 22-year-old director of the local YMCA, 73-year-old native Ruth Parker, who has known everyone in the neighborhood and who relishes, as Hirsch puts it, "the magic and the muddle of being human together." It's the gritty details that bring this story alive, so when Hirsch wanders off, as she often does, into philosophizing about community and her deep feelings for it, the book suffers. "We are the stories we tell one another," she claims, "the myths we live by... because our days in a place deposit their own truths like minerals in our bones." Before misguided urban planning led to the decline of Jamaica Plain, Hirsch's mythic JP seems to have existed in a haze of neighborliness without abandoned stores or lots. The unanswered question is what happens next: Hirsch reports that friends in search of good public schools are leaving for the suburbs, and as she surveys the local elementary school, one is left wondering where she'll ultimately send her young son. The energy needed to hold such a disparate community of races, cultures, economics and education together is enormous. We can only hope Hirsch found some answers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Pr; 1st edition (August 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374280797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374280796
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,349,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Having been born and raised in Jamaica Plain, I found Kathleen Hirsch's book to be typical of an outsider looking in. Throughout the book, there is a sense that the author is trying to impose her own romantic social views on a neighborhood whose depth and complexity clearly eclipses her own narrow and recent experiences there. Certainly her own experiences in the community bring some merit to the work, yet the reader cannot help but sense a tone of urbane arrogance as she observes with museum-like scrutiny the social habits of long-term residents who, ironically, are continually forced out by professionals like her.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Liza Molina on December 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
Kathleen Hirsch's Home in the Heart of the City lacks the intimacy, comfort and cultural competence that makes Jamaica Plain such a wonderful town to live in.
Hirsch impressed me as a professional heterosexual White women trying to somehow appease herself for having bought a home in a racially, economicaly and sexually identified mixed town.
She consistently misnomers ethnic groups and uses race rather than personality to describe her neighbors. I and several long term JP residents could not relate to the stark, drug infested and unsophisticated description of the Latino community she struggles to write about. She fails to recognize that the health of JP's Latino community is in fact not "improving" thanks to her white compatriots, but rather, is only "worsening" due to gentrification. Latino owned businessess are closing down one by one. She also fails to recognize that JP is home to hundreds Latino professionals (MD's, Ph.D's JD's)such as myself. Fortunately, we can keep up with the rising real estate prices.
Finally, she fails miserably in capturing the essence of JP as one the most viable and colorful Lesbian communities in the United States. Lesbians own about 40% of the homes in JP. With more visibility than non-JP residents could ever imagine, lesbians here are business owners, service providers and way out of the closet co-parenting MOMS!
With some historical documentation Hirsch tries to pass off as an authority on JP. But my opinion is, unless you want a totally innacurate impression of this wonderful town, I wouldn't bother reading this book.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Kathleen Hirsch takes a journalistic approach to telling the stories of Jamaica Plain residents who fought hard -- and won -- against the tide of decline brought on by urban renewal in this Boston neighborhood. Skip the romantic introduction and read the interviews with the real people who, in spite of their many success, remain very active in spreading the revitalization to every corner of the neighborhood today.
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