Know your Neighbor: 10 ways to build community

This week I have been thinking a lot about neighborhoods. Primarily because yesterday we attended the funeral for the first neighbor we met before even putting an offer in our house. He was a great man and defined what it is to be neighborly. As I said during his funeral, "He was a great neighbor, and not just because he owned a snowblower."  Several people at the funeral commented on how they don't even know their neighbors and they are jealous of our neighborhood. Guess what, people... you can change that!

We rely on our neighbors for everything: loaning an egg or other missing ingredient, borrowing tools, getting our kids from the bus stop when we're running late, etc. My neighbors are the first ones on my speed dial.

You might be saying, "I want that but it won't happen in my neighborhood. People don't care about other people. They are always running."

Well, maybe your neighbors are thinking the same thing about you. This may seem obvious for some, but here are a few things I wanted to pass along about  making a neighborhood a community.

1) Take walks. Yes, merely walking around your neighborhood will help you get to know your neighbors and you'll burn a few calories in the process. If you have a dog, you can be pretty much guaranteed to at least recognize all of the other dog owners within a week or two. Double bonus if you have kids and you walk to the bus stop instead of driving them to school!

2) Go outside. Many of us spend way too much time inside even when the weather is good. Go outside and you will likely see someone. Sit on your front porch or steps. Even if you don't have a proper front porch (we don't), sit on your front steps in the evening and wave or say hi to neighbors who pass by. Maybe someone will stop and chat.

3) Curb appeal. Even improving your curb appeal will create a reason for conversation. Digging and planting will cause passing neighbors to comment on your work or ask questions about what you're doing. We actually met a lot of neighbors when we dug up our entire front yard the first year we lived here, and we've made an effort to stop and talk to others as they improve their own front yards.

4) Neighborhood yard sale. We do our annual yard sale as a neighborhood event and it is easy to organize. I just post signs a few weeks before. Not everyone sells but a lot of people will walk buy and say hi. My favorite neighbors bring me starbucks (I'm easy to please!).

5) Create a distribution list. This takes time to do but starting with a few email addresses, you can grow a distribution list or a listserv (Yahoo and Google offer these services for free). This allows everyone to ask questions without having to figure out everyone's email address. I admit, I've had mixed success with this and "reply all" seems to work just as well if you have everyone but just having email addresses makes planning things so much easier.

6) Organize a Friday night happy hour. Pretty much self-explanatory. Spread the word by email, word of mouth, notes, or just a sign on a central telephone poll that you are hosting a get-to-know-the-neighbors happy hour on Friday at 5:30 til 7 p.m.. BYOB and snacks to share. I usually supply a couple of cases of water, 6 pack of beer or bottle of wine, coolers and ice, cups, and maybe some snacks to get people started. Very easy and inexpensive. Our last one ended at 11:30 p.m. Encourage others to take up the cause and host another week.

7) Holiday parties. Rallying neighbors around an old fashioned 4th of July or Halloween party takes some work but the benefits will be amazing. It can be easy as ordering pizza and asking everyone to chip in money and BYOB.

8) Helping hands. It's sad to say, but tragedy and disaster can really bring a neighborhood together. We've had the misfortune to have two neighbors die in the past year and everyone rallied around to help with meals and other necessities during those tough times. But, on the more fun side of helping out, the husbands in our neighborhood organize a swat team whenever it snows (fortunately not too often in Virginia) to be sure that everyone is plowed out who cannot do it themselves (and even some who can!). During the blizzard of 2009 when we were literally snowed into our neighborhood, one family hosted everyone for a chili night and almost 40 people showed up! The chili was gone quickly but the fun and memories have lasted us for years. Another obvious thing that many of us already do is bake something and bring it to a new neighbor. Who isn't happy to see chocolate chip cookies or pesto arrive at your front door after a long day of unpacking?! Our first neighbors in our first apartment dropped off a 12-pack of beer after spent a full day unpacking a giant truck on a 98 degree day - welcome to Washington in July!

9) Find a cause. Having something to rally around can also help build community in your neighborhood. It can be as simple as getting a crosswalk installed on a busy street, or as complicated as fundraising to build a playground accessible to children with disabilities.

10) Girls Night Out. One of my favorite neighborhood activities is girls' night out. Generally it's very last minute and someone sends an email about heading to a local restaurant for dinner and a drink. Sometimes even on a school night {gasp}! We always have a great time!

Remember, this can all start with you. One person or one family can change a neighborhood.

What kind of neighborhood do you live in? Do you know your neighbors on either side and across the street? What kinds of neighborhood activities do you do in your neighborhood which could be replicated elsewhere?

Now go to do something neighborly.