Miss a Feeling of Neighborhood? Here Is A Fix for That:
Many people miss the way neighborhoods were when they were children – people looked out for one another’s children, everyone knew everyone’s name, and you could pop over next door to borrow a cup of sugar.
Actually, that kind of neighborhood still exists. I have spent a lot of time both personally and professionally at neighborhood meetings and other events. I’ve also heard many, many people wax nostalgic about the way things used to be. That always surprises me, because I feel a great sense of connection to my neighbors and my neighborhood. In one sense, it’s the family I always wanted (with all the good and bad features of any family). And my neighborhood is in the central city, ungated and unwalled and much the better for it.
And from what I’ve observed, there are several characteristics of neighborhoods that feel home.
I’d like to start the list, and I hope you will help me complete it. Maybe this page can become a resource for those who pine for the good old days, and would actually like to do something to bring them back.
What A Neighborhood Feels Like When It Feels Like Home:
Here’s a story that illustrates the kind of neighborhood I live in. We have a mailman who delivered our mail for 24 years. Don wasn’t just a mailman, though. He is part of our family. He comes to our neighborhood Christmas party and Fourth of July parade. He once tackled a purse snatcher and held him until the police arrived. He stopped and talked to everyone so he always knew what was going on.
Then the post office, in its infinite wisdom, put Don’s route up for grabs. (No matter that the neighborhood wanted him to stay). Another mailman, a nice guy and a great mailman, took over the route.
On Don’s last day on our route, the neighborhood was plastered with signs wishing him well on his new route. We altered residents through our Facebook page and Google group. We’ll welcome the new mail carrier, but Don will always be part of the family.
The Master List:
What Makes a Neighborhood Connected:
These are some of the things I think help a neighborhood come together. But it’s just the beginning of a list, and I would like to hear from others and add your ideas to the list.
- We know our neighbors and their children. That doesn’t happen by magic. Neighbors have to make an effort to know their neighbors. But there are some tools that make it easier, such as neighborhood associations, block watch programs and don’t forget parties.
- We get together often, on Christmas and the Fourth of July and for other events. Think about what makes a family a family. In part, it’s spending the holidays together through thick and thin. It’s the same with a neighborhood.
- We fight problems together. I think this is one of the secrets people in new, pristine suburbs don’t understand. The reason central city neighborhoods are strong is because we have gotten to know each other while working on various issues. My neighborhood fought a peepshow business; we stood on a busy street with signs every Friday. We go to city hall in force when we need to. We got close through a common sense of purpose.
- We celebrate each others’ homes. For 30 years, my neighborhood has had an annual progressive dinner. Sure, it’s a little bit about food, but mostly its an excuse to see what other people have done with their turn-of-the-century homes.
- We don’t just fight city hall, we build in times for parties. So maybe my neighborhood is known as a partying neighborhood. That’s due, in large part, to two guys, Bob and Mike. Every year, they invite us for a Christmas Party. We meet at their house on Christmas Eve to line the streets with lumineria. They organize the progressive dinner. They serve cocktails before the Fourth of July Parade. Some residents only come to meetings about issues. Others only come to the parties. But it takes both to really make a neighborhood strong.
- We pick up the trash. Living in an urban neighborhood means dealing with issues around trash and litter, old tires and weeds. Just like we take pride in our own yards, we need to have a sense of pride in our entire neighborhood, and often that means getting together to trim the street trees, clean the gutters and pick up trash.
- We work with our elected officials whenever possible. People love to complain against politicians in general, but at the neighborhood level, our local elected officials are often our strongest allies. We keep them up to date on our issues and problems; we invite them to our parties; and we work to support them if they have been good friends to the neighborhoods.
- We consider ourselves partners against crime. In addition to working with local politicians, we work closely with the police department. They trust us to know when someone is out of place in our neighborhood. We develop relationship with individual officers rather than only contacting the police by calling 911.
- We are willing to chip in financially. Neighborhood organizations are funded many ways, but rarely are they funded well. Our neighbors are asked to chip in $20 a year to pay for the costs the board incurs: mailing, running a website, sending electronic newsletters.
- We have multiple channels of communication. For the person who used to write the neighborhood newsletter (that’s me), things have only gotten more complicated in the age of social media. Now my tiny neighborhood has a website, a printed newsletter (for those without computers), an electronic newsletter, a Facebook page and a Google group.
Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone has come to symbolize a vast change in America culture. While people in the 1950s and 1960s joined organizations and clubs and played bridge together, in the past few decades we’ve been “bowling alone.” We’re not joining bowling leagues. In fact, we’re bowling on the Wii now.
The message Putman wanted to send was this was leading to a breakdown in social capital, the “glue” that holds neighborhoods together. We create social capital every time we eat a meal together, go to city hall together or help out a neighbor in need. We also create social capital when we share information on our Google group, post news on our Facebook page and go to a neighborhood meeting.
It’s not possible to rebuild social capital, and truly feel connected, without making it a priority and attending to it. For neighborhoods that want to come together, there are simple ways to get started.