I spend most of my time in the working world building community online, but what about offline community building? Sure, I’ve built meetup groups (including sfcmgr.com and those for brands).
But there’s something truly refreshing about building purely recreational, deep communities in your neighborhood. Many of us are starving to build deep communities around our homes. We don’t know our neighbors or we’re new to a city, and we feel oddly disconnected to the people around us.
In my last neighborhood in San Francisco, I got to know almost all of my neighbors over time, either because they wanted to meet my dog or because my car broke down and one of them was there to help me get it out of the street at 6AM.
The dog was a big key: as soon as I got him, all my other neighbors with dogs asked about him and stopped to say hello every time we’d pass by. When he got sick for a while, they knew and they’d ask about him. When he got out of the house without permission in the early days, they helped me corner him and get him back inside.
As a result, I got to know their dogs or their girlfriends and where they grew up.
Having this kind of give-and-take community and conversation in the big city is rare at best.
In order to build a community, you don’t have to fit into a certain mold or even be extremely extroverted (I am not, but my dog is). To build and grow a community, you do have to care about bringing value into the lives of others. Plus, if you ever lock yourself out of your apartment, it’s great to have neighbors who you trust to have an extra key.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about to bring community to your physical neighborhood if, like me, you crave the deep connection of knowing your neighbors:
- If you have a dog, introduce him to the neighbors’ dogs. Dog owners love to meet other dog owners. If you don’t have a dog, you should still make an effort to meet the dog owners in your neighborhood. Their dog is a great conversation starter.
- If you’re more of an extrovert, meet everyone around your block when you first move in. Bring treats.
- Have an open potluck and invite people to your home. Either invite them in person or slip an invite under their door.
- Check out Nextdoor.com and see if your community is active (hopefully it’s not just crime reports like most of the neighborhoods I’ve seen there). If it’s active, consider starting a group for whatever you love to do: whittle wooden sculptures, write, take photos, or run.
- Volunteer for a community group. You might be able to find one at your local recreation center or on Meetup.
- Go on Meetup.com and start a meetup group or join an existing one.
- Begin a neighborhood newsletter if you already know your neighbors and ask people to submit their stories to you for monthly online publication. Mission Misson and Bernalwood are both great examples of community blogs in San Francisco, simple as that.
- Start a clothing or canned food drive.
- Organize a bake sale and garage sale for the entire block. Once you know a few of your neighbors, see if they’ll participate and send the money to charity.
- Send cards to new neighbors welcoming them to the area.
- If you’re an introvert, you can do something as simple as start a neighborhood resources list that others can add to on Google docs, including babysitters, dog walkers, and other important phone numbers.
Of course, as with all things, talking to people to see how you can help them, learn about where they’re from and what their family is like is far more important than planning things out of the blue. There are obvious reasons to get close to your neighbors, including reduced crime rates, increased convenience, and more friendships (which is good for your health and wellness in general). But also it’s just nice to extend a helping hand to those whose door is right next to your own.
Main Image via Cam Miller