Realtor’s Jennifer Kelly Geddes says circulating can feel awkward at first, especially when you’ve been relegated to your own backyard or the backdrop of your office for Zoom calls, but you can relearn the satisfying art of small talk—and make your community stronger and maybe even safer at the same time. “It’s easier to look out for a neighbor’s well-being when you know that the gray house with the icy driveway belongs to Jason, the guy who lends you the latest spy novels,” says Geddes.
Of course, to build community spirit, it takes a village. First find a way to put out the word on your block or in your apartment by floating the idea of a few group activities just to see if folks are willing to volunteer for a task. “Bulletin-board signs, email, and local online groups are great ways to build a committee to start things rolling,” says Geddes. “However you get going, the result should be a more closely knit community and better bonds with your neighbors.”
Start with yard/garage sales. People love to look at other people’s stuff and snag a bargain, and there is no better way to encourage that than with a neighborhood stoop or garage sale that might even become a much-loved annual event. Bill it as a “Declutter Day” and perhaps even collectively decide to donate the proceeds to a charity that you and your neighbors have agreed upon. Just check the town guidelines for this kind of sale before you set a date.
If you live in a neighborhood that includes a shared patch of green that could use some love, consider turning it into a community vegetable or flower garden. “Planting seeds, pulling weeds, and then sharing the bounty is a community gift that keeps on giving. Maybe you’ll vote to plant some peonies or edible items, which can lead to even more neighborly interaction,” says Geddes.
People bond over books. And who doesn’t have a few books they’d love to shed? Geddes suggests, “A handy person on the block or a DIY enthusiast could build a book box to protect the volumes from the elements, and then mount it in a central location on the street (with your town’s permission). Dedicate a shelf to kids’ books, too.”
Perhaps a “Lend Your Neighbor a Hand” day might be in order. Spending time and effort to help those in your neighborhood creates a bond like no other, because you get to know your neighbors even better. Geddes says this is easy to pull off: Stay alert to what’s needed and offer to help. If an elderly neighbor’s leaves are piling up or their lawn needs mowing, grab a rake and/or mower and head over to the neighbor’s lawn. As permission first, of course. Same idea for shoveling snow or carrying heavy groceries from the car to the house. And if you’re the one with a whole-house generator when the power goes out, let your neighbors know they can charge phones, do laundry, and warm up at your place.
As for a general neighborhood clean-up day, set up a quarterly day to pick up trash or dead branches around the neighborhood. Just be sure to research in advance how and where to dispose of those items. “You can also exchange ideas for how to reduce waste as a unit, create a schedule for recycling plant runs, or even start reusing or upcycling trash,” says Rhianna Miller, a design expert with RubberMulch, a material used in neighborhood playgrounds and community landscaping.
Block parties are just plain fun if you can manage to set them up. “Who can resist the lure of a cold drink and a hot appetizer? An annual potluck party is a great way to gather and get to know your neighbors,” says Geddes. “Renting space at a community center or erecting a tent in one generous person’s yard are two ways to set it up.” Some communities theme these events to a holiday; others brainstorm ideas like “Chips, Dips, and Cocktails.” Creativity is the ticket.
Or how about Game Night, with neighbors gathering to host board games, forming a poker group or bridge club that meets at a different home each time, or any other activity that inspires neighborly competition?
Facebook and Nextdoor groups are great ways to connect, whether it’s with crafters, singles, or any other type of group that interests you—or start your own. These ultra-local networks bring neighbors closer while sharing local news, trading info and references on contractors, or just banter about local life.
In these days of brown trucks and FEDEX stops, many neighborhoods have issues with porch pirates. If yours is one of them, why not set up a safety system by installing cameras on the block, and create a phone-message tree for emergency notifications—important in this era of crazy weather. Safety crews might also look in on the elderly when the weather is bad or the power goes out.