Our family recently moved into a lovely place back in my familiar, and dynamic hometown of Oakland, California. For the previous six years we resided in a nearby small and sheltered community known for its excellent schools, low crime, and civic pride. There, my children roamed free outdoors, and visited neighbors – sometimes well into the evening after dark.
After several weeks of searching, a house found us in Maxwell Park, a well established and diverse urban neighborhood. But after moving in, I soon noticed the absence of children playing outside, imagining that the children who once roamed this neighborhood in days past, now likely had children of their own, rooted in a distant suburb. Our street today, framed by tidy yards tended by retirees, appeared safe enough, but my children expressed their uneasiness about being outside in their new surroundings.
“There is no one outside,” they lamented; and after tossing a ball back and forth among themselves for a short while, would stumble back up the stairs into the house, searching for a screen for diversion. Admittedly, I was weary too. Since I did not know anyone around me, I lacked my usual confidence in letting my kids be their typical free-range selves. I missed my old neighborhood.
Then I had an idea.
I decided to organize our own welcome wagon to meet our community – so my children and I put together this simple flyer below for a Friday meet-and-greet on our front porch.
The prior Monday evening, my daughter and I walked and knocked from door to door a half-dozen houses in either direction of our home. At first, it did feel a little awkward, but without exception people opened their doors to greet us warmly giving way to a feeling of confidence and purpose. For those not home, we conspicuously wedged a flyer between door cracks, railings, and in mailboxes.
Our micro-pilgrimage revealed even more diversity than we imagined. In addition to our meticulous garden tending seniors, we met tech entrepreneurs, a bakery owner with a chicken coop, a school district administrator, a horticulturalist, and many, many dog lovers. But we also made another discovery: children.
My fellow parents were relieved to know another family with children had moved in the ‘hood, and their kids pressed around them into doorways eager to meet a potential new friend.
The evening of our gathering, our first guest said to me with caution, “this neighborhood is kind of particular,” perhaps in an effort to prepare me for a low turnout. Yet soon after our 6:00 PM start, doors opened, and nearly every neighbor we met, and some we had not, mounted our stairs to join us on our porch for a cold drink and a snack.
What I thought was a chance for neighbors to get to know our family was much richer, as some neighbors, living nearby one another for a while, had never met in person! So for about an hour, we swapped safety tips, family histories, and almost all reassured, “if you ever need anything, just come over.” That evening, our family became a part of a neighborhood.
Before leaving, my previously skeptical neighbor expressed amazement, and said, “In all the years I have lived here, this has never happened – you did a good thing.” It sure felt like it.
Getting to know our neighbors has transformed our experience in our new place for the better. For instance, neighborly greetings are more warm and genuine, with enthusiastic waves from passing cars, or a lingering “hello, how are you?” As for my children, they now feel more confident about getting outside, and do so more easily. They have since reached out to neighbors to borrow things such as scotch tape, and even freshly laid eggs on a Sunday morning.
What a difference it can make to know your neighbors as part of a healthier and happier community, and to help parents and children confidently connect with their local outdoors.
Do you know your neighbors?