“Communities work better (students perform better, crime rates are lower, kids are safer, people live longer) when neighbors know one another better. Knowing your neighbor on a first-name basis…is a surprisingly effective first step.”
– Robert Putnam, Harvard Public Policy Professor and author of Bowling Alone
If you’re considering a move to a new city or neighborhood, you may be worried about replacing the comfort and support of family and friends you’ll leave behind. Or perhaps you have completed a move but would like to meet more people, build friendships and strengthen your support system.
In this blog post, we’ll explore 10 ways you can utilize technology to foster in-person connections with your neighbors, make friends and get engaged in your local community.
Connecting with Your Neighborhood
While advancements in technology have made it possible for us to connect with people from around the world, numerous studies show that it has led to a decline in face-to-face interactions.1 And more people are using their technology to text instead of talking which eliminates verbal interacts with others.
Places where we used to strike up casual conversations—such as a doctor’s office waiting room, bus stops or in grocery lines—are now filled with people looking at their smart phones, barely acknowledging those around them.
Even many families dining together or relaxing in the evenings can be caught spending more time focused on screens than each other. Is it any surprise that we’ve experienced a steady decline in community involvement?
We sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often.
10 Tips to Turn Your Neighborhood Into Your Social Haven
1. Join Your Community’s Social Network
A growing number of neighborhoods are utilizing private social networks like U.S. based Nextdoor and Canadian based GoNeighbour. These platforms are designed specifically to connect neighbors and include an address verification process.
Residents post about a variety of topics, including neighborhood news, recommendations for local businesses, lost pets, etc. These platforms are a great way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in your neighborhood, but don’t just use them to connect virtually.
Extend an invitation to your neighbors to attend an in-person event, such as a park playdate for families, an informal soccer game or a potluck block party.
2. Find an Interest Group
Whatever your favorite hobby or pastime, you’re guaranteed to meet people who share your interests when you join an interest group! The website Meetup.com has over 32 million members in 288,000 groups in 182 countries. You can search for a group in your area that appeals to you … from book clubs to running groups to professional networking, they have it all.
Most people who join Meetup are there for the same reason you are… to meet people who share their interests. So it’s a great place to make like-minded friends in your community.
3. Lend a Hand
Volunteering your time and talents is another good way to get engaged in your community and meet those who share a similar mission.Most nonprofit organizations rely heavily on volunteers. Find one with a cause you’re passionate about by visiting a website like VolunteerMatch.
You can search by cause, location and keywords, and filter your results to include opportunities that are suitable for kids, seniors or groups. Another option is to search for volunteer positions that require specialized skills. Perhaps you’re musical or maybe you’re good with computers.
Lotsa Helping Hands is another site focused on connecting volunteers with those in need. Members can request help or search for opportunities to assist others in their area. Most of the volunteer opportunities involve aiding neighbors who are ill or elderly by delivering meals, offering rides to appointments or just stopping by for a visit.
4. Take a Class
Taking a class is a wonderful way to develop a skill while meeting people who share your interests and passion for learning.Whether you want to brush up on your Spanish, finish your novel, or learn how to tango, most community colleges offer inexpensive, non-credit classes on a variety of topics.
And if you are pursuing a degree, forego taking your courses online. Opt for the traditional route instead. There’s no substitute for being part of a live community of your peers.
5. Attend an Event
Attending a live event is another way to engage with members of your community. From festivals to fundraisers to retreats, Eventbrite is a great place to search for events in your area. You can filter your search by category, event type, date and price to find something that fits your interests, schedule and budget.
A retreat or a networking event may offer more opportunities for one-on-one interaction.
6. Share Your Stuff
Everyone’s talking about the rise of the “sharing economy” with the popularity of Uber and Airbnb. But there’s also been a rise in “sharing communities,” which facilitate the free exchange of goods among neighbors to reduce consumption and keep usable items out of landfills.
Nonprofit groups like The Freecycle Network are made up of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. Members can post “offers” of free items or “wanted” items they need.
The company Peerby has a similar goal of reducing consumption by encouraging neighbors to lend and borrow items they don’t often use. For example, you can offer to share your blender, rake or ladder. Maybe you need to borrow a drill, cake pan or moving trolley. Peerby enables you to request items to borrow from your neighbors and encourages you to register items you are willing to lend.
7. Support a Community Garden
Community gardens have become increasingly popular in both urban and rural areas across North America. Not only do they beautify a neighborhood, they also foster community, encourage self-reliance, reduce family food budgets, conserve resources, and provide opportunities for recreation and exercise.
The mission of theis to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening across the United States and Canada. The organization’s website enables you to search for existing community gardens in your area. Considering starting one if there isn’t one nearby. The site provides helpful tips and resources for organizing a garden in your neighborhood.
8. Attend a Place of Worship
If you have a religious affiliation, joining a local place of worship is great way to meet people and get involved in your community. Aside from attending services, most religious institutions also host extracurricular activities to foster fellowship among the congregation.
To make the most of your affiliation, look for opportunities to meet in smaller group settings. It’s a great way to form interpersonal relationships with people who share your beliefs and values.
9. Carpool with a Co-Worker
In the spirit of joining a “sharing community,” carpooling offers many similar benefits. It presents an opportunity to form a bond with coworkers and/or neighbors during your daily commute. Additionally, you can save money on gas, reduce wear-and-tear on your vehicle, lower carbon emissions, and in many cities reduce your commute time by taking advantage of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) travel lanes.
Alternatively, you can try posting on your neighborhood’s social network to see if one or more of your neighbors are commuting to a nearby location. Take turns driving and start benefiting from all that carpooling has to offer!
10. Participate in World Neighbors Day
The organizers behind World Neighbors Day promote it as “an invitation to share a moment with your neighbors, to get to know each other better and develop a real sense of community.”In the United States it’s held on the third Sunday in September and in Canada it’s held on the second Saturday in June. Participants are encouraged to organize gatherings with their neighbors to build relationships that “form the fabric of our communities.”
Gatherings can be promoted through your neighborhood’s social media network, blog or listserv, or you can go the old-fashioned route and hand out flyers door-to-door. Whatever you do, be sure to make your gathering inclusive and welcoming to all.
Best of All: Be a Good Neighbor
As with anything in life, you will get out what you put in. It can take time to build lasting and meaningful friendships with your neighbors, but the effort you make is likely to pay off tenfold.
The tried-and-true way to make friends, expand your circle, grow your support system and get engaged in your community? Be a good neighbor yourself.
What are the best ways you’ve found to meet and engage with your neighbors? Share your success stories or challenges in the comments below!
- Lengacher, L. Mobile Technology: Its Effect on Face-to-Face Communication and Interpersonal Interaction. Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences.
- Putnam, R. Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Bergland, C. Face-to-Face Social Contact Reduces Risk of Depression. Psychology Today.