I get really skeptical about unambivalent nostalgia for the good-old-days because the good-old-days usually involved things like widespread intolerance of identity differences and waiting seven weeks for a piece of mail.
One nice historical practice that’s often missing from contemporary social life, though, is the idea of getting to know the people who live next door to you. And maybe even the people who live next door to them. Close-knit communities where people are invested in each other and help each other get by are definitely one thing the past got right.
Contemporary urban culture can be incredibly isolating, but taking the first step towards community building isn’t that hard. I mean, your community is, literally, just next door. Here are some ideas to get you started if you become inspired to get to know the people who live around you.
Swaps are amazing because they let you empty your closet of space-hoarding items that you’re embarrassed you ever thought would fit you, or that you’ll never ever wear again because they remind you of that date you had…with that guy… and then you can refill it with things that used to hoard space in other people’s closets and remind them of awkward and terrible times. In most cases, everybody will bring a bag of used clothes, spread them out around a room, and then basically go shopping and find something else that fits. Whatever’s left at the end of the day can be donated to a mission or charity of your choice.
Everybody in your neighbourhood has talents. You just don’t know what they are yet. The talent pool is a street/block/neighbourhood-wide list of people’s talents, if/what they charge for them and when they might have time to offer them. Maybe you’re a fantastic gardener (or you don’t mind pulling weeds), but you have a leaky tap you can’t fix. Maybe someone down the street is a plumber with an eyesore for a yard. Voila! You can then trade off talents, maybe save yourselves some money, and get to know your neighbours a little bit better.
It’s not a lame idea – hear me out. Lots of people like to talk about books. Unless you’re in school, or you purposely read the same book with a friend, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to actually have an intellectual conversation about something you’re reading. There are tons of new or classic novels out there that can spark an evening’s worth of discussion about art, culture, politics, relationships, you name it. There are, alternatively, plenty of reads that are only and entirely steamy or gritty or gory if you just want to sit around and talk about guns or feelings or whatever. This works equally well for TV shows or movies too. Call it a film club, or a media club, and it even sounds high-brow again.
Walking or jogging group
Nobody likes to exercise alone. At least if you’re meeting a group, you’ll feel guilty enough about standing them up that you’ll put on the sneakers and head out for some fresh air. Like the book club, you can put flyers in people’s mailboxes suggesting a time and meeting place, maybe an email address for communication, and see if anyone else is interested. If you throw in some dogs, it’s a bonus chance for some quality neighbour-bonding. Since everybody who has dogs wants to talk about their dogs, there’s a guaranteed conversation starter every time.
It’s OK to use your children as tools in your quest to build a stronger community because it benefits them too. In neighbourhoods where there are lots of children, you can suggest group outings to the local park or pool in the summer so the kids can play while the grown-ups get to know each other. Knowing other parents in the neighbourhood could end up being an important resource of potential child-minders, especially in emergency situations. It’s also nice to know that your kids will have a number of potential helpful adults to turn to in case they ever have an emergency of their own.