Before Dayton had “Originals”, we were a “City of Neighbors”. I’m not sure when we stopped being so neighborly, but one of the things I hear from buyers is that they want to live in a neighborhood where residents really know each other. They want a sense of community and camaraderie. People don’t just buy a home, they buy into a neighborhood and they want to know that not only are there are people within shouting distance who’ve got their back, they want to find a neighborhood where their own presence is felt and appreciated. Not all neighborhoods come with a ready-made sense of community so maybe it’s up to you to be the change.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to make a plan for your community, so I’m offering some ideas for becoming a stronger neighborhood. One for each month, these are generic, easy, simple- a spring board for what might work in your own community, but hopefully they will get you started. If you have kids, your job is easy. Kids are natural neighbors who use the block as a playground and every new person is a potential friend, whereas adults use the home as a refuge. Fight the urge to shut the door against strangers in your own neighborhood. There’s a difference between being friendly and being nosy and very few people in your neighborhood will complain about the former.
January: Hire a kid.
We get snow in January, and believe me, there is a teenager in your neighborhood who would love to make some money shoveling snow. Hire them. Hire them! Set your expectations high and hold that kid to those expectations, but hire the kid, and hire them to shovel your elderly neighbor’s driveway as well. Don’t make the 3-foot-nothing kindergartners on the block trudge through 5 inches of snow.
February: Take a walk.
There are usually a few days in February where the weather breaks. Get out of the house and take a look around. Notice which neighbors are gardeners and who likes landscaping. Where is the neglect in the neighborhood? Is there a need there that can be filled? Wave hello. In the car, on the sidewalk, across the street- wave hello. Acknowledge that you recognize that you are sharing space with your neighbor and 95% of the people you wave to, will wave back. Who knows? They may even smile. 🙂
March: Clean up your yard.
March winds mean a lot of flotsam and jetsam starts blowing around the neighborhood. Clean it up, your mom doesn’t live there. When you walk, take a bag with you and pick up the garbage you see. I know you didn’t put it there, but you live there, and trust me when I tell you that your neighbors will notice and will start to take pride in their neighborhood, too.
April: Meet the gardeners.
Someone in your neighborhood is a horticulturist by passion. Because you’ve been out walking and paying attention, you’ll know who they are. Early weekend mornings, go meet them. Walk past, say hello, compliment their yard, get their advice, find out where they shop for plants and how they treat their soil. If you don’t care for plantings, perhaps you can find the best lawn in the neighborhood and talk to them. These people are regularly outside, they know what is going on in the neighborhood. They are clued into the community same as the house with all the kids. Get to know these people. If you have the opportunity to start a community garden, do it!
May: Neighborhood Open House.
The historic districts in Dayton do these on a regular basis, but why not your neighborhood? Contact the Realtors who have listings in the neighborhood and get this started. My guess is that any Realtor worth her salt would jump on this idea in a heartbeat and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. It’s a great way to spruce things up, show off the community, and bring people into the neighborhood.
June: A neighborhood cookout or block party.
Pot luck, casual, bring the kids, keep it outside. Easy does it. Invite local police if that would be helpful, appropriate, and productive.
July: Exterior updates to the house.
Attitudes are contagious. Painting the shutters, or replacing windows, or a new roof will get your neighbors out of their homes to talk about it with you, and you will soon see improvements to their homes as well. Very few people want to live in the worse home on the block, and some blocks simply need one or two home owners to decide that the neighborhood is worth it, before that attitude becomes the norm. If you don’t have a front porch, create the feeling of one and use it on summer evenings.
August: Back to school.
Go to a school board meeting. I’m not sure what affects property values like the local school system. That means you have to know what is going on and you have to hold your elected board members accountable. It’s okay to be the PITA citizen who expects results.
September: Fall Pot Luck.
One last chance to get outside together while the weather is warm. There will be a lot of changes to talk about: Neighbors who have come and gone; a neighbor who is in need; the roads or sidewalks in disrepair; which home is in foreclosure and do you take on maintenance for the vacant property?
October: Trick or Treat.
Beggar’s Night is a great time to get to know your neighbors, don’t turn off the lights and hide in the dark. The younger kids will be out early so buy enough candy for the first hour or half hour and get to know the families in the neighborhood, if you haven’t already.
November: Leaf raking.
Raking, not blowing. Raking leaves invites the neighbors to stop and chat with you, while a leaf blower is a noisy apparatus that repels your neighbors. Rake your leaves and skip the trip to the gym.
December: Share with your neighbors.
There you have it. A painless way to get to know your neighbors. Each neighbor has something unique to bring to the neighborhood, and not everyone will be receptive to participation. Respect those differences, but find a way to build on them, and you’ve got the beginnings of a vibrant, growing community.
Okay, I’ve shared my ideas- let’s hear from you all. What makes your neighborhood such a great place to live and how do you create a sense of community?
Photo courtesy of TLussier