Who are the people in your neighborhood? Do you know the neighbor you always politely wave to across the street?Whether you’re looking for a way to finally introduce yourself to a new neighbor or are hoping to swap recipes over the fence, sometimes it can be tough to meet the folks who live 100 yards away.
Building bonds within a community creates a sense of “homeyness” on the street. It can also mean you have to adapt your favorite cole slaw recipe to feed 40 ravenous neighbors!
1. Sweet exchanges. “I host periodic cookie exchanges,” says Joni Hilton of East Syracuse. Not only for the holidays, cookie exchanges are easy gatherings that not only yield friends but tasty treats, too. “I like to set themes such as ‘fruits and nuts’ or ‘decadent delights’ to encourage others to bring unique cookies. It helps to get the conversation flowing quickly,” adds Hilton.
2. Go outside. Too many of us live in tracts where we come home, flip up the garage door, drive in, and close the garage door behind, thus cutting off the pulse of the neighborhood. Putter in your flower bed, play hopscotch in the driveway with your kids or read a magazine on the porch—in the early mornings, after work or on the weekends when other neighbors tend to be outside. Spending time in the front of your house puts you where the action is. You’ll see passers-by and be able to strike up a friendly chat.
3. Watch out for neighbors. Host a neighborhood watch meeting with law enforcement experts. Not only will you learn valuable tips for keeping your family and neighborhood safe, you’ll be able to bond with neighbors united in a common goal.
If your neighborhood already has a watch in place, consider a neighborhood-wide recycling program of children’s books or video games. Working with neighbors can also save lives and property. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a disaster until help arrives. Discuss everyone’s special skills (medical, technical, etc.) and consider how you could help each other in an emergency.
4. Compete to meet. Organize neighborhood contests for the kids as well as adults. Who can make the best snow sculpture? Whose chili will win “hottest on the street”? Who can grow the biggest rose, pumpkin or squash? Get the furry neighbors involved and have contests for fluffiest tail, cutest nose or best pet trick.
5. Organize a block party. A day filled with bicycle-decorating contests, quests for candy hidden in a pile of straw and water balloon tosses helps younger neighbors get to know each other. Plan activities geared at introducing those at one end of the block to their counterparts on the other end. Silly games such as adult egg tosses start the party off with a festive bang. “We set up volleyball nets at a few different houses so we can rotate around the street,” says Liz Thomas, a Cicero mother of three.
6. Sell yourself. A yard or garage sale fills the dual purpose of meeting your neighbors and emptying your overstuffed closets. In addition to posting flyers around the neighborhood, send postcards inviting the families on your street to a “neighbors-only preview” or an after-sale tea.
7. Walk over to the friendly side. Take your kids for a bike or wagon ride around the block. Treat your dog to a walk in the neighborhood. Walk a different route to the park or walk on the opposite side of the street from your house. Being seen in the neighborhood increases the likelihood that someone will recognize you and strike up a conversation.
8. Extend yourself. Sometimes all it takes to meet your neighbor is the simple invitation to share a cup of coffee, a plate of freshly baked cookies or a slice of your famous lasagna. Whip up a batch of your favorite goodie and pick a neighbor you’ve been meaning to introduce yourself to or get to know better. Stop over with your offering and the invitation to get together for coffee, a play date with the kids or a walk with the dogs later in the week.
9. Click with your neighbors. In keeping up with modern advances, Web sites such as www.i-neighbors.org let you point and click your way to information about your neighborhood and to meet your neighbors. A free chance to exchange ideas, information and resources, this option allows you to learn more about your neighborhood anytime and from anywhere.
10. Start a club. Whether to watch a favorite television show, read a new book, taste wine or learn how to make a baby quilt, ask neighbors to meet regularly. Send out a flyer stating you’re hosting the inaugural meeting of the block’s “club,” inviting everyone on the street to attend. Make sure to suggest everyone bring a friend in order to increase the number of people you may be able to meet and connect with.