It’s Good to Know Your Neighbors

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.

maxwell park

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? 

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  • Christyna

    So beautiful, Rue! Excellent idea for building community.

  • http://twitter.com/outdoorafro Outdoor Afro

    Thank you! We are so happy here!

  • Hannah Kirk

    AJ would love to play outside with your kids ANYTIME! I would love a street where she can feel safe outside and I can feel ok with her being there…

  • rulette

    Yeah!

    Sent from a hand held device. Apologies for typos or brevity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sumiko-Saulson/757267245 Sumiko Saulson

    What a beautiful blog! Welcome to the neighborhood! Well.. I am on your neighborhood list but I live in the Fairfax, which is about 6 blocks away from Maxwell Park (next neighborhood over). I hope you and your kids can make it to the book reading/costume party thingie at Laurel Books on the 30th.

  • rulette

    Thank you! We will try to make it!!!

    I appreciate the welcoming!

    Rue

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  • Anne Burnham

    hello Rue and family,
    Loved reading this and want to invite you to a Halloween street party…read below for the invitation and the back story…
    Hello Maxwell Park Neighbors,

    After last years
    disappointing experience of getting just a few trick-or-treaters on our
    block, my neighbors and I decided to create a Halloween celebration for
    our kiddos (and yours)! We didn’t want to drive our kids up to the hills
    to trick-or-treat and thought this would be a great opportunity to
    build on the wonderful momentum of the Sept. Day at the Park. Our
    neighborhood has not traditionally been heavy on trick-or-treating but
    this year we are hosting a Halloween party, parade and
    trick-or-treating.

    This Halloween from
    5-7pm we have a permit from the city to block off the block of Camden
    between Birdsall and Madera and we are hosting a family friendly
    neighborhood Halloween celebration. We
    will have
    games, stories, a photo booth, face painting, a kids parade, art
    activities and
    more. At dusk we’ll all head off
    together for some trick-or-treating. (We’re flyering a few
    nearby blocks to let them know we’ll be coming through, so they can be
    prepared with treats or lights off if their not interested). We
    would love for you and yours to come to the Halloween event but please
    remember we are making this up as we go–we encourage you to RSVP and
    give us an idea how you want to participate.

    Even
    if you don’t have kids your welcome to come out and meet some
    neighbors. Please join us for some light potluck snacks and a chance to
    meet some other Maxwell Park residents. Bring something to share, we’ll
    have plates, cups, and some chairs. All are
    welcome to join us for this neighborhood get together.

    If you’re interested in volunteering please let me know, there’s still a lot to do.

    Thanks so much and Happy Halloween!
    Heather, Anne and other neighbors on Camden St.

    Take care and so hope to meet you soon,
    Anne
    510.325.2368
    anne.burnham@gmail.com

  • rulette

    Thanks Anne!

    We will be here and Trick or Treat in our own ‘hood!

    Rue

  • http://twitter.com/MistinguetteS MistinguetteS

    Thanks for this post. It gives me courage (when I am feeling shy) to continue to encourage the residents of my condominium community to get together outdoors. We have beautiful landscaped grounds on property adjacent to riverfront, farmland and wilderness. I moved here to live in a place where there are enough grownups out and about that kids can safely bike and play in all this beauty, while parents can be assured that they are within earshot of a caring neighbor. I appreciate your encouragement for using hospitality as a way of making connections!

  • rulette

    Thanks for your post – and I hope one day we can meet in person! Yes – it is a shame to live in a beautiful place with no one, especially kids, able to enjoy them for whatever reason. Let’s reclaim our neighborhoods! We are the only ones who can.

    Rue

  • http://www.facebook.com/sdanks Sharon Gamson Danks

    Lovely post, Rue! Sounds like a wonderful place to be settling in. Congrats on your new neighborhood and proactive community building work. Your children are very lucky to have a mom like you. :-)

  • rulette

    Thank you! While it has created a permanent shift, it does take persistence in terms of reminders to my kids (and myself) we have a community out there in the context of our busy lives.

    Rue

  • Teach Outside

    The very day I read this post we received a knock at our door (highly unusual since we live in an in-law unit off the street). It was a neighbor inviting us over for a pumpking carving social the day before Halloween. We went and became better friends, found we had a lot in common, and met more neighbors we’d never met. This article spurred my husband and I to attend… Thank you!

  • rulette

    I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel after reading this. Thank you!

  • S. Sinclair

    This is just beautiful, thank you for sharing your story Rue! My husband and I have lived in Maxwell Park for one year and we also made an effort to meet the neighbors on our block when we first moved in. What I love about what you did with your flyer was that you got to meet neighbors almost all at once by inviting them over to your porch that day! We live on a dead end street called Penniman. We found our new neighbors to be nothing but warm and friendly… just good people. Thanks again for your post!! It warms my heart.

  • http://twitter.com/outdoorafro Outdoor Afro

    Thank you for sharing – it means so much to have a real connection with the people who live so close. Right now, my son is enjoying the company of his newest friend from across the street.