Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Finding Community - Part 2 - Your Own Neighborhood

If you are moving to a new neighborhood, you may be wondering how to tell whether your neighborhood is likely to have community or rather if it will just be a place to sleep. If you already live in a neighborhood and are not planning to move, you may be wondering how to create more of a community feel.

What to look for

1.    Walking areas. This could be a sidewalk, walking trails, or even a Greenway hiking or bike trail nearby. The important things to note about these walking areas are whether or not they are used. If you are there on a nice sunny day on a weekend or early evening and you don’t see anyone I would not count that as a walking area.
2.    Green space. This could be a neighborhood park or pool, or simply an open grassy area in between houses. It could be a common area of a larger community or simply large lots. Neighbors need places to get together, either as adults or for their children.
3.    Safe streets. If you are on a busy street with bad traffic, you are much less likely to cross the street to say hello to a neighbor. This automatically reduces your opportunity for community.
4.    Talk to a neighbor. If possible, talk to a neighbor during your house hunt. You aren’t just buying a house, you are also buying your neighbors for as long as they choose to live there. They most likely won’t steer you incorrectly, because they know they will have to live next to you too. You don’t have to like them personally but you can ask about how many kids are in the neighborhood, whether people use the common areas, and what the local schools are like, if that is important to you.
5.    Consider the commute. If you are living in an area where the commute time is more than 45 minutes to the nearest large employer, you are much less likely to find people at home to build community with. Consider your commute to your own employer as well. I love the fact that my husband can now come home for lunch at least 4 days a week and we can eat together as a family. It makes a huge difference in my stress level over the day.
6.    Distance to neighbors. I know many people like townhouses or apartments, but honestly, I am not going out of my way to talk to someone who may seem incredibly noisy and keep me up at night through no fault of their own except the thin walls or floors of the apartment. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your closest neighbor is a half mile away down a busy highway and up their dirt driveway, you may not be visiting them as often as you think.

What to change
1.    Meet your neighbors. If you see someone outside, don’t freak out, just wave at first. If it’s nice weather, cross the street to introduce yourself. If you already know their name ask about their kids or grandkids. If you already know that, ask how their week has been and really listen to their answer.
2.    Be outdoors. Take a walk in your neighborhood, even if you don’t have sidewalks (just keep safety in mind). Say hello to anyone you meet and stop and talk longer if they are interested. If you don’t see anyone, consider praying for your neighbors that they would find the community they are likely looking for as well.
3.    Invite someone over. Once you get to know someone fairly well, consider inviting them over for dinner. If they say they aren’t available, try again another day, or invite someone else.
4.    Host an open house. One of my favorite memories growing up was going to the Christmas Eve Open House at one of our friends in Charlotte. I never asked, but my best guess is that 200+ people would be coming in and out of their house that day. They had about a 1200 square foot house and 7 kids. It was an amazing thing to watch and experience.
5.    Host a cookout or outdoor event. Nothing brings people together like food and fun. Rent a bounce house, bring out the croquet set or Frisbees and have some fun with your neighbors.

The important thing, whether you are in a new neighborhood or trying to build relationships in your current neighborhood, is to build true relationships. You can know a lot of people but you also need to really get to know them. When they call you for advice, give them wise advice. When they ask if you will help them while they are out of town, say yes. When they need someone to listen, be that person. You will find that some of them will be there for you in return when you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

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