Why you should network with your neighbors

Pileated woodpecker (Photo by dobak)

The other day I invited a former colleague to connect with me on LinkedIn. She responded with an update and ended with “Let’s keep in touch.”

I enjoy re-connecting with friends and colleagues from the past—people I remember from jobs in another time and place. And yet, until recently, I didn’t connect very much with my neighbors, except for perfunctory greetings at the mailbox or quick waves to a passing car.

This was due mostly to our different schedules.  For 8 of the last 9 years, for example, I left my house to go to work about 6:30 am and didn’t get home until around 5:30 pm.

The  neighborhood

I live in a single-family house in a residential area of Seattle, a mix of re-modeled 1950’s era and brand-new houses. It’s peaceful and quiet, and one reason is the abundance of huge, old trees, both coniferous and deciduous. They not only provide privacy but also attract an amazing array of birds, such as Steller’s jays, Oregon juncos, Northern flickers, nuthatches, and from time to time even a Pileated woodpecker as shown above (which was the model for the famed Woody Woodpecker cartoon character).

Something changed

One night last spring, something happened in this peaceful, quiet, neighborhood. Someone tried to break into one of the houses. It was an obvious target because packages had been delivered and left outside for several days, while the owners were away.

Other houses had been broken into over the years, but this attempt became a tipping point. Several neighbors began working with the Seattle Police Department to organize a Neighborhood Block Watch.

Our first Block Watch meeting

Soon my BF and I received an invitation to a Block Watch meeting across the street to talk about security, and on the appointed evening, we walked over, carrying my potluck offering. After helping ourselves to delicious food and cider, we settled in the living room. Going around the room one-by-one, we introduced ourselves and discussed past burglaries or attempted burglaries and security measure taken to prevent future burglaries. A police officer described the pattern of break-ins typical in the area and answered our many questions.

Immediate benefits

My BF and I both noticed that the meeting changed our neighborhood. True, summer was coming, and we were all spending more time outside. But it was more than that. We were talking to each other more, and our conversations seemed  more personal.

For example, my BF told a neighbor about a special event he was going to attend in another state; he was really looking forward to it but was also nervous about it. When he came back, our neighbor asked him how the trip how gone. He was so interested and empathetic. It sounds like such a small, ordinary thing, and it is, but I don’t think it would have happened the year before.

Another immediate benefit was that when my BF and I were going away for a few days, I did not hesitate to ask our next-door neighbors to take in our newspapers while we were gone. In return, when they were going away for a few days, they asked us to move their empty garbage and recycle cans from in front to the side of the house. Again, such small, simple things to do for one another, and yet, before our Block Watch meetings, I would have hesitated to “bother” anyone about taking in our newspapers.

The meetings continue

We had a follow-up Block watch meeting several months later, again focused on security. My BF talked about the security system he was thinking about getting and about having bought a safe to protect irreplaceable items which was prompted by a major fire in a neighbor’s house.

Our most recent meeting was a week or so ago at a different house. As we had before, we went around the room, focusing mostly on security issues—including a problem with a door-to-door magazine salesman which prompted several neighbors to call the police. Our hostess distributed a map of the neighborhood which she’d put together, showing houses, names, and contact information. This will be invaluable in reaching one another if we need to.

Going beyond security

At that same gathering, our hostess reminded us that we were not limited to talking about problems in the neighborhood.  “We’re neighbors,” she said, “we can share good news too! We can talk about our children or grandchildren, jobs, retirements, birthdays, anniversaries, and other good things.”

And, in fact we do celebrate joyous events. When the inside of the house which had been extensively damaged by fire was completely rebuilt (which took many months), the owners invited the whole neighborhood and other friends to celebrate their beautiful re-built house and share a dazzling array of grilled food,  salads and deserts.

Around Labor Day, other neighbors held a neighborhood potluck–the 18th annual such gathering–at their house.  (Strangely enough, this was the first time in all those years that the potluck had to be held indoors because of the cold, windy, and rainy weather. Seattle’s reputation for rain is much exaggerated.)

Lessons learned

There are many benefits to connecting and networking with people you work with or used to work with. But you should also network with your neighbors to build a safer and more supportive  community. You have a lot to gain, and so do they.

Photo by dobak

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 11/27/2009, 7:38 pm

    Arvind, We’re busy in my neighborhood also and respectful of one another’s privacy, but I’ve really enjoyed the stronger sense of community we’ve been developing.

  • Arvind Devalia 11/26/2009, 10:29 am

    Madeleine, the only time I meet and actually talk to a lot of my neighbours is when we have our annual neighbourhood watch meeting.

    Then the rest of the year we are all too busy with our own lives. But we are very neighbourly and friendly in the building where my apartment is and makes such a big difference to the quality of our lives.

    Love thy neighbour as they say:-)

  • Madeleine Kolb 11/24/2009, 10:03 am

    Walter, You’re right about the social connection. And what started as a concern for security in my neighborhood has become a real social connection. We watch out for one another. Not in a nosy way, but in a helpful way. For example, one time my BF forgot to turn off the lights on his truck, and a neighbor knocked on the door to tell us. As you say, it is like an extension of family.

  • Walter 11/23/2009, 9:32 pm

    Connecting with our neighbors are extremely important, not only for security reasons but also for social connection. The benefits being they as an extension of our family. In our neighborhood, I can even ask for condiments when I run out of it or assistance in case of emergency. :-)

  • Madeleine Kolb 11/23/2009, 10:56 am

    Justin, Thank you for your comment. The loneliness really is amazing, but the good news is that it doesn’t take much effort to change that. What’s happened in my neigborhood could happen elsewhere, and the rewards are great.

  • Justin Dixon- AlittleBetter.net 11/23/2009, 4:53 am

    Its amazing how lonely our neighborhoods have gotten even thought there are so many people.