|Communities get built from within, my darlings.
||[Oct. 21st, 2016|10:32 am]
I organize a neighborhood event for Halloween -- we shut down the street to car traffic, decorate all of the houses on the block, host about 3,000 trick or treaters and people who just show up for the scene or to show off their own costumes. We collect some donations, which pay for some of the streetwide decorations/supplies, and have some stock decor that people can borrow, but really, each house funds its own display, buys its own candy, works really hard to set up something cool, so we can host a three hour party for 3,000 strangers.
It's a lot of work, but the looks on the faces of the kids and visitors usually makes it seem worth it. (I say usually, because by about 3pm on Halloween, having been up and decorating since 5am, I often have a crisis of conscience and think that I'm an idiot who should develop a hobby that involves more sitting around. But that passes. It always does.)
We've gotten a vanload of kids who live in an inner city neighborhood, who've never trick or treated because their own neighborhood isn't safe and think that our street must be what Disneyland is like. We've had foreign exchange students who reported at the end of their stay that this event was the thing that most represented the United States to them -- only here would people, on their own, with no government or social program, with their own money, just do something like this for the enjoyment of others. (I don't know that that's true, necessarily, but it's a nice compliment.)
People say to me all of the time, oh, I wish my neighborhood was that social and united. Look, I can't take credit for starting it -- the event was going on when I moved here, I just sort of got involved and then wandered into being in charge. (I've said in the past that like Tyrion Lannister "I drink and I know things"...which is true, but MORE true is "I drink and I make things happen") When I moved in, we had to buy 400 pieces of candy per house. We're now up to 2,000. I have a tendency to escalate things. And I'll take credit for keeping it alive through some rough patches when people wanted to cancel or bail -- 9/11, a local sniper attack, random rounds of apathy.
But here's the thing:
it got started because a couple of people started doing a thing. And they kept doing the thing. And encouraged other neighbors to do the thing. And had social get-togethers where they invited the whole neighborhood to get together and nominally talk about the thing. And not everyone showed up, but enough did. And they just kept doing it. And it became a thing. A big thing. A thing that brings joy to others, a thing that builds neighborhood camaraderie. Because normal, every day people thought it would be fun and good for the community.
So, you want your neighborhood to be a better place? Do the thing. Yeah, YOU. Just do it. Pick a date, call it a picnic, a weiner roast, a happy hour, a let's clean the common area/local park, whatever. Make up invite flyers, drop them off at each house. See if you can find one neighbor that will partner with you. Tie it to something like a happy hour/food drive, so that people feel the need to at least stop by and drop off canned goods. But that and bringing a side dish or a six pack should be the only obligation.
Now, here's where you have to be brave. Because you may need to "sell it" a bit. Do a reminder two days beforehand. Make eye contact with your neighbors and ask them if they're going to make it.
One more need for bravery: it's entirely possible that no one, or not many people will show up. So, you should make sure you get that one neighbor to commit. Or arrange to have some friends attend as well. And then, keep doing it. No matter what. Don't get discouraged. KEEP DOING IT.
If only four people show up, then have fun with those four people. You now know four people in your neighborhood better than you did the day before. Ask them to reach out and bring at least one more person next time. You will wear them down, I promise. And some people will never show up - but I guarantee you that they'll still feel more connected because things in their neighborhood are going on. More likely to ask for help, lend help. You'll learn who in the neighborhood can be counted on to do things, who will help in emergencies and who, frankly, is more likely to need help. Whose got a generator, who's got the chain saw, the snow blower, whose always got dill on hand.
You may think to yourself - I don't need to know my neighbors. And I'm going to tell you -- you're an idiot. Seriously. You need to borrow a thing, your car won't start and it's an emergency, a tree comes down across your driveway, you just need a pair of hands to help with a thing -- you're actually surrounded by people who could help you in a pinch, who might actually be fun and friendly, who might help you solve a problem, with whom you could work to improve your community. People who will keep an eye on your house while you're traveling, people who will notice that strange guy wandering around your yard.
You want a better, more tight knit, social community? No one's going to do it for you. And you're surrounded by people who wish it would happen too, but aren't brave enough to do it on their own. C'mon, be brave, make your tiny corner of the world better.