February 28th, 2014
Becoming a Good Neighbor
by Emily Vanest
One of the things I love most about living in downtown Indianapolis is that the individual neighborhoods function almost like small towns, which have the reputation of being close-knit strong communities . . . that are sometimes hard to break in to. If you’d like to get to know your neighbors, but don’t know how to start, here are some ideas that have worked for us:
1. Play outside . . . in the front yard/porch/street/sidewalk. When the weather begins to warm up, most people can’t wait to get outside. We have coffee on the front porch on Saturday mornings or drinks on our steps in the evening while our kids bike and scooter or chalk the sidewalk. People coming home from work inevitably stop to say hello, and other neighborhood kids and parents gradually make their way out, too. Sometimes, a true informal porch party ensues. There are a few guys around the corner from us who regularly invite neighbors over for drinks on the porch . . . I love that this group of mostly single guys always invites our big family to join them, too. Don’t be afraid to invite people who are “outside of your demographic.” We’ve discovered some really great friends that way.
2. Bring an unexpected gift to a neighbor. If you’re baking cookies, make some extra and take them over to a neighbor “for no reason at all.” My husband recently baked 12 loaves of bread and we had so much fun surprising neighbors with fresh, homemade bread. One year we delivered Easter eggs, another year we delivered pastries for Santa Lucia day, and once my children made May baskets with flowers and treats and hung them on unsuspecting neighbors’ doors. Everyone loves a surprise treat.
3. Go for a walk. Walking has been called “the world’s most democratic activity — it’s open to almost everyone.” I went for an early morning walk last year hoping to begin a good exercise regimen. I ran into a neighbor just getting back from her daily walk and we ended up deciding to walk together every morning. We’ve done it for a year and a half (except when she is on vacation . . . I’ve found that I just can’t walk by myself anymore).
4. Do something to help. There’s another big storm coming this weekend. Why not help dig your neighbors cars out of the snow or shovel a few more feet down the sidewalk instead of stopping at your own property line. In the Spring, why not mow the little strip of grass in front of your sidewalk all the way down the block? The few extra minutes are well worth the joy of seeing it all cut evenly.
5. Offer to share. On my street, we have one weedeater, one power washer, one leaf blower and one chicken coop between us. Some of us share a garden space, a ladder, and a lawnmower. When you need something, whether it’s an egg or a miter saw, why not ask a neighbor? When you’re dividing perennials or have an abundance of zucchini, why not share with a neighbor?
6. Organize a block party or club — It is pretty easy to get the city to block off your street for an evening. Invite neighbors to cook out together or organize a potluck meal and games for the kids. If you’re not up for something so ambitious, why not use a ready made template and organize your block’s Crime Watch or Adopt a Block through Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. You could also invite neighbors over to play games or meet at your local park for volleyball or even just get together to pick up trash.
If you’ve missed it, you still have a few days to see Katrina West and Vivian Gladden’s tribute to the King Park neighborhood’s outdoor gathering places . . . the streets, parks and fields where these neighbors play together.