10 Tried & True Tips to Turn Your Neighborhood Back Into Hometown USA
I think we can all agree that with the growing popularity of social media, we are now capable of connecting with people from all around the world. How intriguing, right? Well…that may lead you to ask, has social media led to a decline in face-to-face interactions?
My husband and I were recently out to dinner and we were both suddenly (and sadly) aware that other couples, friends and families dining around us, seemed to all be buried in their cell phones. We weren’t at a ‘cheap’ restaurant either! Establishments where we used to strike up casual conversations are now like restaurants where friends, couples & families dine, are filled with people looking at their smart phones. Families dining together have become more of a rarity than the norm it was when I was growing up.
Children in many neighborhoods are not heard outdoors playing like they were when I was growing up either. It seems that many neighborhoods are filled with neighbors who open their garage door, pull in and then the garage door goes right back down – never to speak to anyone that day…very rarely do they speak to anyone. Is there any question why we’ve experienced a steady decline in community involvement all across the city?
“Communities work better (students perform better, crime rates are lower, kids are safer, people live longer) when neighbors know one another better. Knowing your neighbor on a first-name basis…is a surprisingly effective first step.” – Robert Putnam, Harvard Public Policy Professor and author of Bowling Alone
Some of the things that Harvard Public Policy Professor Robert Putnam noted during his nearly 500,000 interviews over the last 25 years is that now:
- We sign fewer petitions
- We belong to fewer organizations that meet in-person
- We know our neighbors less
- We meet with friends less frequently
- We socialize with our families less often
How does this impact our overall well being? Putnam added that “limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles an individual’s risk of depression.” I totally agree with that – those who have been shut-ins in the past can attest to that being true.
CONNECTING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY Now that we know how important it is that we revive ‘community,’ let’s explore 10 ways you can combine technology to encourage face-to-face connections with your neighbors. These 10 ways to connect will help you make friends and become an active member in your local community.
1. JOIN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD’S SOCIAL NETWORK A growing number of neighborhoods are utilizing private social networks like Nextdoor. Connect with your neighbors and join in on social functions announced on the site. One of my dear friends’ Nextdoor membership plans something each and every week. She has actually noticed that more people are out and about in the community than since they’ve moved there 4 years ago. Nextdoor is a great way to stay in-the-know of what’s happening in your neighborhood – and why not meet your neighbors at an in-person event? Plan a day in the park, a block party, a Mahjongg evening each week – there’s so much YOU can do to bring back a sense of community to YOUR community!
2. LEND A HAND VolunteerMatch.org – Exactly as it sounds – find YOUR perfect match! I can attest that volunteering your time and talents is a great way to immerse yourself in your community. The best part, you’ll meet people from your community who share your passion of volunteerism – and your specific mission(s).
3. ATTEND A PLACE OF WORSHIP Regardless of your religious affiliation, joining a local place of worship is great way to meet people and get involved in your community. Most religious institutions are not just about attending worship services but, there are often many other extracurricular activities to foster fellowship – and community. Attending a local religious organization meeting/service/function is also a great way to form relationships with people who share your beliefs and values in your own community.
4. FIND AN INTEREST GROUP Meetup.com – be there or be square! Seriously, whatever your favorite hobby or pastime, you WILL meet people who share your interests when you join a group. Millions and millions of members enjoy the incredible variety of groups on Meetup.com in over 180 countries. Don’t let the vast number of members or groups scare you – there are local clubs in your own community. I have another dear friend who decided to start a wine group – that group is still together some 15 years later and has morphed into a women’s tennis group – 10 years and counting – a cooking group, a hiking group and a boating group – all meetings held around the lake where she lives.
5. ATTEND NEIGHBORHOOD EVENTS Attending a live event is another way to engage with members of your community. From festivals to fundraisers to retreats, Eventbrite & Facebook are great sites to search for events in your area. A large festival or community event is a fun way to get your feet wet and get a good sense of your community. Smaller groups such as a retreat or a networking event may be a little more intimate, allowing you to get to know your individual neighbors even better.
6. A SHARING COMMUNITY
Despite the 25-year surge in personal technology and ll of the negatives that goes along with that, “sharing” has been trending for the past decade. The popularity of Uber and Airbnb is a prime example of that. With over-filled landfills, “sharing communities” make a big difference in facilitating the free exchange of goods among neighbors, thereby reducing consumption. My favorite, the Little Free Library, is a popular & innovative way neighbors all over Charlotte are participating in a sharing community.
Neighborhood Matching Grants has partnered with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation Friends Council to bring this popular sharing dynamic to Charlotte neighborhoods. Stewards build a box to house the library and fill it with books they are willing to give away. Each little library is unique to its community – some communities enjoy decorating the boxes during the holidays, others have library painting parties. The library is placed in their front yard or in a public outdoor space and neighbors are encouraged to take a book they’d like to read, and in exchange leave a book for someone else to enjoy.
Yes, I mentioned Uber with ‘sharing’ but, I’m referring to good old fashioned carpooling – with your neighbors! What a great opportunity for the children in the community who attend the same school or the adults who work in the same area, say UPTOWN, to get to know one another while reducing your carbon footprint. With ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, a new wave of carpooling websites, aiming to revolutionize the way we commute by making it easier and more convenient to carpool have emerged. Many schools have online bulletin boards inquiring about ride-sharing, while adults can find job ride-sharing on sites such as Scoop and Waze Carpool. If you don’t find anyone nearby, try posting on your neighborhood’s social network sites (#1) to find a carpool partner.
8. SUPPORT OR START A COMMUNITY GARDEN
The American Community Gardening Association was founded to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening across the US and Canada. Locally, Mecklenburg Parks & Rec oversees numerous community gardens but, here are a couple of specific neighborhood links to community gardens in Charlotte.
For assistance with Mecklenburg County Community Gardens, email Timothy.Turton@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov or phone (704) 336-2082.
9. WALK THE DOG As simple as this may seem, many newcomers to the area are afraid to step out of their comfort zone (their own street or those adjoining their own street) to walk their dogs. Mecklenburg County has SO many wonderful parks – from pocket parks to vast parks that take days to explore to the miles and miles of greenway. Why not do a quick Google search and find the nearest park to you? It may be within walking distance. Whether you’re walking the dog in your own neighborhood or in the park, fur babies are a great way to engage in conversation! Everyone loves dogs, right?!
10. TAKE A CLASS Taking a class is a wonderful way to develop a skill while meeting people who share your interests and passion for learning. Here are a few ideas that are readily available and classes are plentiful in our area. Painting Classes near you Music Classes near you Cooking Classes You may also want to check out a community college in the area to see what they have to offer; visit the American Association of Community Colleges.
JUST BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR As my grandmother would say, ‘with everything in life, you get out what you put in.” Boy, is that ever true when it comes to community! Relationships take time to build but, boy, the effort you put into establishing and building those relationships pays big dividends. Some of the best friends I’ve had in life have been neighbors – you begin with a commonality – living in the same community means your income, home and neighborhood preferences are similar. You build on that relationship, expand your circle and your support system grows along with your relationships. Be a good neighbor!
What works best for you to meet and engage with your neighbors?
© Debe Maxwell | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | CharlotteBroker@icloud.com | 10 Tried & True Tips to Turn Your Neighborhood Back Into Hometown USA