What, exactly, is a neighbor? Is just the people who happen to occupy the housing next to yours? Is it the folks across the street? Are they friends? Do we ever see neighbors?
Let’s face it: our housing, especially in Southern California, is designed to keep us safe in our personal cocoons. In the morning, we drive out of our garages, on to the street, and repeat the process in reverse at night. Rarely do we get to know the people who live next door or across the street. For those of us who live in Riverside, and commute a distance to our place of work, our closest relationships apart from biological family might very well be people who live in another county.
Should it be any different? Who’s to say that our layers of social insulation – our lack of front porches, our tall backyard fences, our drive off/drive back garages, our commuter economy, and our dependence on automobiles for primary transportation, all conspire to keep us from knowing the people who live in proximity to us.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can live as if neighbors and neighborhoods matter, if we want to do so. None of my suggestions that follow are new or especially creative, but if you try them, you may find a surprise or two in your day.
First, grow some food in your front yard. An apple tree, or a small front yard garden plot will be noticed. And give the food away when you harvest it (yeah, I know some of you are laughing as I suggest this – just because everything I grow dies doesn’t mean it will for you!).
Second, walk or bike on journeys of less than two miles. You save on gas, you help educate motorists to gently share the road, and you get some exercise. Plus, you actually see neighbors. You actually hear neighbors. Who knows, you might actually talk to neighbors!
Third, go to the local park and visit the local library. Our community of Riverside, California is blessed by amazing parks and wonderful libraries. If your community isn’t so fortunate, well, make some noise about that situation. Sidewalks, parks, and libraries are incidental extras to a community. They are as essential as good sewers and well paved streets.
Fourth, go on a Treasure Hunt. Go (walk or bike) and look for things in your immediate vicinity that improve the quality of your life. Look for places where people connect with each other and share in life together. Brag to others about your neighborhood treasures.
Fifth, get involved. There are neighborhood watches (where people keep an eye out for suspicious activity) and there are neighborhood groups (where people work together to improve quality of life). Get involved. Not in the classic, “Not-In-My-Backyard” (NIMBY) stance. Get involved to work with others to improve everyone’s quality of life. In Riverside, the Riverside Neighborhood Partnership http://www.riversideca.gov/neighborhoods/neighborhoods-partnership.asp) can point you toward ways to get involved.
Communities have many ways to turn our collections of homes into neighborhoods. Can you envision making your residence part of a neighborhood?