Busy days can be both physically and socially exhausting. It is easy to come home at the end of the day, close the front door, and shut everyone out. While this may be a necessary boundary to set occasionally, there is evidence that getting to know your neighbors can improve happiness and life satisfaction. There are several things you can do to foster community in your neighborhood and turn acquaintances into a reliable network of friends.
Sometimes, presence is all that is necessary. Make yourself available for casual conversation simply by being outside as often as you can. Plant flowers in the front yard. Have coffee on the porch every morning and wave to people as they pass. A small gesture can be the start of a relationship.
There are going to be some people in your neighborhood you never see, regardless of how much time you spend sipping coffee on your porch. That doesn't automatically mean they don't want to get to know others who live around them. It may just be up to you to make the first move.
There are several ways to initiate contact with people. You already know where they live, so sending them postcards in the mail to invite them to a neighborhood meeting at your home shouldn't be too difficult. If that seems impersonal and you're comfortable doing so, you can even go door to door to start conversations. Keep in mind that you're not just there for small talk. Take a list of questions with you to ensure that you get the information you want:
- What does your ideal neighborhood look like?
- What are your hobbies?
- What do you have to share?
- What do you want to learn?
After talking to as many people as you can, you should have a pretty good idea of what the neighborhood wants. That's when the real planning starts.
Choose the Right Projects
Every neighborhood is different. You may read an inspiring story about a community garden, but if you don't have a few people on your block who have both knowledge and enthusiasm for such a project, it is unlikely to flourish. In fact, unless quite a few people are interested, it may become nothing more than a chore for the small number of folks who maintain it rather than the relationship-building endeavor it was supposed to be.
Instead, pay attention to the information you have gathered. Look at the resources people have and the things they like to do in their spare time. For example, if several people mention they'd like to learn more about home maintenance but don't know where to start or don't have the tools to do it, you may enlist the guy who couldn't wait to show you all his works in progress and his impressive tool collection to host a project day. This can draw other enthusiasts out, and soon you may have a Saturday work crew or tool-sharing program in the neighborhood. When it comes to strengthening the community, what you do doesn't matter as much as doing it together.
You may have a lot of small interest groups in your neighborhood, but once in a while, it's nice to have a big event to which everyone is invited. A block party doesn't have to be extravagant. It can just be a potluck or a barbecue in your backyard. Some people won't be interested in coming, and that's OK. The goal is not 100% participation but rather an opportunity to socialize for those who want to. Even if only eight people show up, you can still have a great time and forge new friendships.
Getting to know your neighbors may seem daunting at first, but it doesn't have to be complicated. You may be surprised how receptive people are when you take that first step.