Building Neighborhood Communities - An Introduction to Successful Neighboring (WO1000)
Making connections with your neighbors is an important part of keeping your neighborhood safe and livable. If something is not working well on your block, you and your neighbors can solve the problem together.
What will this Handbook do for you?
This is a handbook for all people. Whether you live in an older neighborhood, a new neighborhood, a suburb, a townhouse or a Victorian mansion, your neighbors are part of the fabric of your life. They are real people who eat, sleep, play with their children and mow the lawns on your block. As a group, you and your neighbors form a community. Together, you share neighborhood assets such as parks, churches, grocery stores and laundromats. And you also share concerns such as neighborhood safety or a poorly maintained lot.
Because you live there, you are a part of the community. Whether you connect with the people around you is a choice that you make.
This handbook will show you things you can do to make a conenction with your neighbors and improve your neighborhood. If your block is not attractive, this handbook will show you ways to make it nicer. If your block feels dangerous, this handbook will show you ways to make it safer. If your block is already great, this handbook will show you some ways to make it even better.
This handbook will help you:
Remember, making connections and planning improvements with your neighbors as a group, protects your interests as well.
Why is Being a Good Neighbor Important?
Where neighbors share a sense of community, residents are more likely to feel safe and secure and have a lower fear of crime than where there is no sense of community. People living in connected neighborhoods feel healthier and are happier about their lives and are more likely to vote and recycle and to help others by volunteering and donating blood. For these reasons and many more, being a good neighbor and connecting with others on your block not only makes the neighborhood better but also helps you personally.
Neighborliness is not a special talent - it is a decision! Anyone can be a good neighbor - it just takes a little initiative, and the rewards make it worthwhile. Neighborhoods with a higher sense of community enjoy a higher quality of life. So do it for yourself and your family.
Wouldn’t it be great if you knew all, or even some, of your neighbors a little better?
Getting to Know Your Neighbors
Finding the courage to make new connections is not easy for everyone. But you and your neighbors will discover that it becomes easier after the first step.
Try the following:
Building Trust through Group Activities
So, you have just made a connection with your neighbors. That’s a good first step. Now you can strengthen your relationships and build trust with your neighbors through group activities. You don’t have to become friends overnight, but through activities together, you can learn to trust each other. Over time you might become friends or just stay friendly neighbors, but either way you can feel better knowing who is living around you.
Try some of the following ideas:
Tips for Connecting with Children and Elderly Neighbors
If some of your neighbors are children or elderly persons, it is important for them to feel involved in the neighborhood as well. They benefit greatly from feeling safe, secure and connected to those around them.
Keep these ideas in mind when you are thinking about your neighborhood:
If a block or corenr looks clean, safe and well cared for, it sends a message of unity to strangers and among neighbors. It can reduce crime, help children feel safe and secure, and improve neighborhood appeal and housing values.
Getting your neighbors together for cleanup day moves you and them beyond personal boundaries to work together for the betterment of what you share.
Try these ideas:
Build community pride by cleaning up as a team.
Now that your block is clean, why not make it beautiful? There are many small things you can do to improve your house and yard. IF all of your neighbors do a few small things, the results will be huge.
Planting flowers and gardens, repairing porches and repainting window frames can make a big difference in how you and others view your neighborhood.
In the summer months, gardens flourish. Many urban gardeners trade tools, ideas, plants or seeds. You probably know someone who has extra tomatoes, beans or flowers from their garden every year. Sharing the bounty is fun for all ages.
The Neighborhood Map
A neighborhood phone list is a great thing to have on hand. A neighborhood map takes this idea a step further. This important tool is a simple sketch of your neighbors and their children, phone numbers and other important information to be used in emergencies or for planning neighborhood events.
There are many ways to create a neighborhood map. You can start by simply drawing your block with houses as squares along the line of the street. Look at our example map for ideas.
Label each house with:
Ask your neighbors for help filling in the empty boxes on your map as you are creating it. Offer them a copy, too.
Making Your Neighborhood Map
If You Have Children
Children can draw these maps for fun, to help them better understand whom they can contact in an emergency, or just to get a better sense of community and place.
Let them be creative in using colors and symbols for the things they see around your block.
Your Neighborhood Association
Your neighboorhood may already have a neighboorhood association. You can check with your local neighborhood council. If it’s active, join it. If not, think about creating one. You can start with just a few people and grow from there. THe resources on the back cover of this booklet can give you more information about working with existing neighborhood associations or about starting a new one in your neighborhood.
Neighborhood associations are powerful tools for dealing with your local government on matters of safety, zoning and local regulations. In addition, a neighborhood association can help you plan group activities such as community picnics or block parties.
Here are some ideas that neighborhood associations have used to build community:
All across the country, Neighborhood Watch organizations help people work together to lower crime in their neighborhoods.
A Neighborhood Watch can also get involved in community cleanup and beautification projects.
Start by contacting your police or sheriff’s office and the National Crime Prevention Council. They can provide information on crime patters, safety tips and crime prevention techniques, as well as Neighborhood Watch signs and window decals.
When neighbors are away, be sure to keep an eye on their house and help keep it safe by making it look lived in
Small Acts that Go a Long Way
Here are a few enjoyable things you can do to make your neighboorhood friendly and cheerful. Be creative, and enjoy life!
Just get involved with your neighbors and your neighborhood and see how quickly others join. Everyone wants a better neighborhood. And it’s easy. Just take it one step at a time.
This handbook is the result of input from many individuals and groups. The idea for the handbook came from the Block by Block Connection Group of the Northwest Lansing Healthy Communities Initiative. The following individuals served on the Block by Block Connection Group and/or contributed for community building used in this handbook:
Leela Madhava Rau
Additional ideas for community building came from various editions of Front Steps, published by the Evergreen State Society.
Early versions of the handbook were written by:
Final copy was written by: Jeremiah Isgur
Art work, graphics and layout by: Julie Reynolds
The Sense of Community Team of the Center for Urban Affairs at Michigan State University coordinated the development and production of this handbook.
For neighborhood-based information and resources, contact:
Baker Donora Focus Center at (517) 485-0907
North Network Center at (517) 346-5794
South Network Center at (517) 272-7492
Wexford Network Center at (517) 882-2306
These organizations work to strengthen overall community health:
South Lansing Healthy Communities Initiative at (517) 487-6828
To organiaze or strengthen a neighborhood association in Lansing, contact:
Lansing Neighborhood Council at (517) 372-6290
Citywide resources available to neighborhoods:
Community/Landlord Organizer at (517) 272-7488
Community Service4s of the Lansing Police Department at (517) 483-4469
Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Board Grants at (517) 483-4141, www.mayor.cityoflansingmi.com/NAB/
Statewide resources for neighborhoods:
Neighborhood Associations of Michigan at (517) 353-8610
Sense of Community Project Team
Center for Urban Affairs
Michigan State University
We’re on the web at: http://www.msu.edu/user/socomm