I don’t mean to brag, but I live in the coolest neighborhood in Austin. Northloop really was recently named the “hottest” neighborhood in Austin by Austin Monthly. However, it’s not about the cool places to shop, the coffee shops, the restaurants, the unique homes, or the history. It’s about the neighbors. We have wonderful community in our neighborhood. I like to think that Brenda and I and many of our immediate neighbors have helped build that community.
A few months ago a dear neighbor had to move. Before she left the hood, she asked me to send her a list of things we did on our block to try to build community so that she could try to do the same in her new neighborhood. Well… better late than never, right?
Here are ten things I have tried to do to build community in our neighborhood.
Talk To Everyone You See
I’m not saying I do this 100% of the time, but I bet I do 80% of the time, especially if I see someone I have not met. I try to talk with everyone, even if just for one or two minutes. I do my best to remember their names so that I can call them by name the next time.
Most people tend to wave and just say hello (if that), but engaging in a short conversation is even better. Ask people a question about themselves. As you find out what interests them, you’ll have more and more to talk about. Going beyond a simple wave shows that you have real interest in them.
Say Yes to Almost Every Invitation
Again, this is impossible to do 100% of the time, but I try to say “yes” to almost every invitation. If a neighbor was kind enough to invite me over or invite me out, I do my best to join them. They have invited me into their world (a big step for people), so this is an opportunity I should not miss.
Most people like to keep their friendship worlds separate. I even had a friend’s neighbor recently say to him: “I am not interested in meeting neighbors. I have enough friends.” If someone is actually willing to invite you into their world, then join them.
Spend Time Outside
It goes without saying, but you cannot meet people inside the four walls of your house (unless your neighbors are really creepy!) To meet people, you need to get out. So I walk the dog, do a lot of yard work, and sit on the front porch with Brenda. We see a lot more people that way.
Most people push the garage opener and slip into the house without ever needing to meet neighbors, let alone see them. To meet people you first have to see them, so get outside and talk to everyone you see. Walk the dog, go jogging, take your kids for a stroll, sit outside, build a front porch, and meet some neighbors.
One of the most surprising things you can do is serve your neighbors. If someone is working in the yard, I ask if I can help. If I know there is a need, I try to meet it. We offer to baby sit, pet sit, and house sit. We’ve identified several elderly people in our neighborhood and found ways to serve them.
This is not for everyone, but I started a lawn care and pet sitting business. It makes me money for sure, but more importantly it has allowed me to meet dozens of neighbors.
Most people need help, but they are afraid to ask for it. Don’t wait for them to ask. If you see a need, find a way to help.
Be The First To Meet New Neighbors
This is the easiest thing to do, but if neglected can become awkward. Don’t let it become awkward. Meet people the first week or two that they move into town. We like to bring folks a small gift to say “welcome.” People always remember you when you’re the first person to reach out to them, the first to come to their door to say “hello.”
Most people don’t know their neighbors’ names. If that is the case for you, put an end to this by simply introducing yourself to every new person who moves into your hood.
Have People Inside Your House
Nothing says “welcome” like being invited into someone’s home. We try to have people over as often as possible. Inviting new neighbors over is a wonderful first step to get to know each other. What’s great, is that it is often then reciprocated. If you take the first step to have people over to your house, you may in turn be invited to their house.
Most people do not like to have others in their home. We’ve noticed people being insecure about how their home looks or just too busy to have people over. That said, we’ve been invite into many neighbors’ houses because we first invited them into our home.
Host An Annual Party
One of the first things we did to build community in our neighborhood was to host an annual Christmas party. It started small, but as the years have progressed more and more momentum has built. Now people look forward to it every year and we typically have 40-50 neighbors attend.
Here are some other ideas for annual parties: Thanksgiving, summer solstice, Valentines, Halloween, annual sports events, birthday parties, etc.
Do A Progressive Dinner
I like to think of this as a turning point in our neighborhood. Years ago, five couples hosted a progressive dinner (where you do a different meal at every house). Suddenly neighbors were hanging out with each other with out Brenda and I in the mix. At first we were sad, thinking”why weren’t we invited?” Then we thought, “Perfect. Now neighbors are initiating their own get togethers!”
This is a great idea because it gets everyone into each others’ homes. Amazing community is developed by doing so.
Get Involved With The Neighborhood Association
Honestly, this is the one I feel least faithful in, but I have tried. My work schedule has prevented me from getting too involved in the neighborhood association, but I serve where I can. Plus, when I go, my simple mind is often lost in the many important details of neighborhood planning and social activism.
Still, the fact is that if you get involved with neighborhood associations you instantly meet all of the people that truly care most about the neighborhood. They have expressed their commitment to the hood by meeting monthly and by doing so much work behind the scenes to preserve and progress the neighborhood. These are important people to get connected with because they care more than anyone else.
Organize a Neighborhood Watch
We had a number of crimes in our neighborhood over a couple years. As a result, we formally started a Neighborhood Watch. I became out “block captain,” which meant I needed to try to meet everyone on our block and create a shared email list for communication (only for crime related activity).
Safety is something everyone cares about, so almost everyone replied. I met a number of neighbors who still have not participated in anything socially, but have been glad to communicate about neighborhood issues.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He facilitates CRM’s Partnering Campus Network and also gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.