One of the Co-op Principles we abide by is “Concern for Community”: We believe that, together, we can make our little corner of the world better. Communities form around all sorts of things: workplace communities, online communities, communities based on a particular interest or cause, communities that arise out of common experiences — such as parenting, attending the same school, or just hanging out at the corner pub. But what about good, old-fashioned community building right in one’s own neighborhood? Here are a few ways to get to know the folks who live right around you.
Create a sitting area on your front porch or in your front yard where you actually spend time — rather than hiding out inside your house or in your backyard — and greet neighbors who walk by. If you live next to a bus stop, set up a bench for neighbors to use while waiting for the bus. (Don’t be surprised if it becomes a community gathering spot!) Put a Little Free Library or Little Free Pantry in your yard with instructions to “take some, leave some.”
Did you plant way more tomatoes than you realized? Did your CSA deliver more kale than any one family could possibly consume? Is your yard bursting with flowers just begging to be shared? Reach out to a neighbor with a little gift basket delivery and a friendly note tucked inside.
Help neighbors get to know one another by sharing contact information and a few things about themselves. You might find, as I did, that you have a carpenter, electrician, plumber, yoga instructor, and childcare provider just a few houses away. Create a simple signup form and go house-to-house to deliver them in person. Once the forms are returned to you, compile the information and email it to everyone. Use the email addresses to start a neighborhood email group.
The first Tuesday of each August is National Night Out. This event began in 1984 as an effort to promote crime prevention, build community partnerships, connect neighbors, and strengthen neighborhood ties, with the idea that connected neighborhoods are safer neighborhoods. The 35th annual National Night Out is Tuesday, August 7, 2018. For details about National Night Out events in your community, check your city government’s website. Cedar Rapids / Coralville / Iowa City
In Iowa City, neighborhood Parties in the Park are free evening events featuring live entertainment, games, arts and crafts, and frozen treats. Many folks bring lawn chairs or blankets and picnic baskets to share a meal together. Some neighborhoods even turn this event into a community potluck. Parties are scheduled for June through September. Find one near you here.
The Buy Nothing Project is a hyper-local gift economy that uses Facebook Groups to build community, with a goal of “random acts of kindness all day long.” Think Freecycle, but better. Since it was started by two friends in Washington state in 2013, the Buy Nothing Project has exploded into a global movement. Members post not only offers and requests for stuff, but also gifts of services (e.g., guitar or cooking lessons), requests for help (e.g., to find a place to stay after a separation), and even offbeat “wishes” (“I’ve always wanted to learn to yodel!”). Connections and friendships form organically through these exchanges. Buy Nothing is more about community than things, and each group is truly what the members make of it. Find yours by searching Facebook for “Buy Nothing .”
Check to see if your neighborhood has an active Neighborhood Association and, if so, get involved in making your neighborhood a better place. In Iowa City, a list of the associations can be found here; in Cedar Rapids, here. Also check to see if your neighborhood association has a Facebook group.
Nextdoor.com is a private social network for neighborhoods. Nextdoor members use their neighborhood groups for everything from enquiring about local babysitters, to tracking down a lost pet, to advertising their next garage sale. City governments also sometimes use Nextdoor to publicize important municipal announcements.
When hearing the words Neighborhood Watch, some may think of nosy busybodies spying on each other or overzealous neighbors taking law enforcement into their own hands. These are not the ideas behind Neighborhood Watch at all. In some neighborhoods, Neighborhood Watch involves only receiving more information about local crime issues and ideas for crime prevention. In others, neighbors work to know and look out for one another, receive training in
crime prevention techniques, and make commitments to take certain crime prevention steps on their property. To learn how to start a Neighborhood Watch in your neck of the woods, visit your city government’s website. Cedar Rapids / Coralville / Iowa City
One sure-fire way to build community is to work together on a project for the common good of the community. You might start a community garden, host a block party or a progressive potluck, hold a neighborhood-wide garage sale, host a backyard movie night, or start a tool-sharing co-op. Check with your local city government to line up any necessary permits. Some city governments have staff specifically for supporting neighborhoods in achieving their goals. In Iowa City, contact Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Marcia Bollinger at firstname.lastname@example.org, (319) 356-5237. In Cedar Rapids, each neighborhood is assigned a City Liaison.
What ideas do you have for building a stronger, more resilient neighborhood? Share them with us on Twitter at @NewPioneerCoop.
In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time by Peter Lovenheim, TarcherPerigee (Penguin)
The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking, by Jay Walljasper, New Society Publishers