Lifestyles Plus 2000
by Patricia Fry
8 Ways to Improve Your Neighborhood
Most of us, who grew up before the 1960s, know the joys of living in a
neighborhood. As children, this was our playground and the neighbors were our
friends. When we became parents, our neighborhood was our sanctuary and the
neighbors our support system.
How would you describe your neighborhood today? Do you know everyone on the
block? Do you feel safe and secure in there? Is your neighborhood comprised of
a community of people working together toward a common goal or individual
families living independent lives? Unfortunately the latter characterizes many
neighborhoods today. Why?
- Were a transitory population. We move from place to place in search
of a better lifestyle. We dont stay anywhere long enough to know our
neighbors and we hesitate making new friends in order to avoid the pain of the
inevitable good bye.
- We dont stay home. Many neighborhoods are virtual ghost towns during
the week because, while the children are in school or daycare, the adults are
at work. When these families come home after a busy day away, the last thing
they want to do is socialize with neighbors.
- We dont trust as easily. We build high fences and cultivate thick
hedges around our property to discourage even neighborly intrusion.
Do you dream of living in a neighborhood like the one you remember as a
child? Here are some ideas for creating a supportive and peaceful environment
in your neighborhood.
Sally and Brad do not feel a sense of community in their neighborhood.
Its where we live, but we live there alone, says Sally.
Although we have neighbors, we dont know them. Everyone pretty much
keeps to themselves which is okay with us because we dont like some of
the things that go on around here.
This couple can take steps to change the atmosphere in their neighborhood.
They can go out of their way to speak to their neighbors. They can offer to
help someone in need. Instead of complaining about problems occurring in the
neighborhood, they could try to do something about them.
For example, they could talk to the parents of the kids who play their music
too loud every day after school. They can ask the police department for help in
discouraging speeding on their street. They might help the teens to organize a
hobby club or Bible study group for the children who are home alone after
school. If young skateboarders are creating a problem, Sally and Brad could
work with neighbors to build a skateboarding area for the kids.
Fear often keeps us from reaching out. Were afraid that if we let
someone know us, they will take advantage of our privacy or generosity. This
was the case for Donna. She said, I see some of my neighbors at mass on
Sunday, but I avoid talking to them. If I encourage them, they might feel that
they can come over anytime they want. I work at home and cant tolerate
What Donna and others dont consider is that the blessings in
befriending their neighbors may far outweigh any of the negative outcomes they
If you want to be a part of a friendlier neighborhood, take the initiative.
- Speak to your neighbors.
- Express an interest in something he or she values, a prize rose or a
weed-free lawn, for example, or comment on the good manners their children use
when they come over to retrieve their soccer ball from your yard.
- If one of your neighbors attends your church, offer to drive them next
- Invite a neighbor over for ice tea one warm afternoon or plan a
neighborhood gathering for everyone on your block.
- If you see suspicious activity around a neighbors property, tell him
About five years after we moved into our rural neighborhood, things started
to change. It was no longer the quiet, peaceful neighborhood we had chosen to
live in. Teens were running amuck two houses south of us and just to our north,
a known criminal entertained his friends. Troublemakers from other parts of the
community converged upon these two houses almost every day. We were subjected
to crude language and loud music. Neighbors cars were being tampered
with. There were fights and rowdiness at all hours. No one complained to the
parents or authorities for fear of retaliation.
And then one summer afternoon, gun shots rang out across this once quiet
neighborhood. Right before our eyes, a policeman, answering a domestic
disturbance call, was killed by a drug-crazed man. This was the last straw.
Several neighbors expressed an interest in banding together and we formed a
Neighborhood Watch group.
We invited law enforcement experts and other professionals to inform and
educate us as to our rights and recourses. People came to our meetings as
strangers to complain and left with neighbors phone numbers and solutions
to their problems. Suddenly, we felt more connected, more empowered and ready
to make a difference in this neighborhood.
With the support of the police department, we reported every violation of
curfew, every disturbance and every suspicious activity we observed in our
neighborhood for the next few months. Warnings were issued, firearms were
confiscated, stolen cars were recovered and arrests were made. Today we have
our neighborhood back. Why? Because the residents in this neighborhood got
Fighting crime is just one reason to get involved in your neighborhood.
Another is safety. Neighbors who know one another are more apt to help each
other in a time of crisis. In a natural disaster, for example, when everyone is
prepared and willing to help one another, lives and property can be saved.
One of our neighborhood watch meetings was dedicated to earthquake and Y2K
preparation. While each family was instructed to anticipate and plan for their
individual needs, we also pooled some of our resources. One family agreed to
serve as first aid headquarters in an emergency. Another couple offered their
generator-operated motorhome to those who might want to hang out should we lose
power. We extended an invitation to neighbors who wanted to hover around our
fireplace on cold evenings if we were without power.
While we didnt need these resources for Y2K and we havent had
the big earthquake yet, our neighbors willingness to get involved blesses
this neighborhood in large and small ways everyday. As an illustration, last
year, I planned a weekend trip. I mentioned to my neighbor, Tami, that I was
leaving my four kitties home alonesafely inside the house with plenty of
food and water. She insisted on peeking in on them, giving them fresh water and
cleaning their sandboxes so they wouldnt feel completely abandoned. I
That afternoon, when she opened the door to my home, she smelled the odor of
gas. She quickly called for her husband, who discovered a leak behind the stove
and promptly shut off the gas valve. I have no doubt that these caring
neighbors saved my cats lives that day.
To get involved with your neighbors:
- Note their habits. In Palm Springs, CA, a womans life was saved
because someone observed that she wasnt following her usual daily
routine. When a neighbor checked on her, he found her unconscious on the floor.
- Let a neighbor know when you will be gone for a day or more. We always
tell our next door neighbor, Robert, when were going away. One time,
while we were out of town, he spotted water running out from under our garage
door. He investigated and discovered that the hose from the washing machine had
burst and was spewing water everywhere. Just think of the mess we would have
come home to if Robert hadnt been willing to get involved.
- Offer to watch your neighbors homes when theyre away.
Make a connection with your neighbors.
Barbara was awakened early one morning by the sound of her dog barking. She
looked outside and saw someone tampering with her neighbor, Jims car. She
flipped on the outside lights, turned the dog out into her yard and the thief
promptly ran away. If Barbara hadnt known something about Jims
habits, she might not have bothered reacting. She could have chosen not to get
involved at all. If you live in a neighborhood where at least some of the
neighbors feel a connection to one another, you automatically watch out for
How can you connect with neighbors?
- Neighborhood Watch is a good place to start. Many cities have volunteers
who work with neighborhood leaders in setting up these programs.
- Create a neighborhood directory for each resident.
- Discuss emergency measures with your immediate neighbors.
- Be aware of elderly or disabled neighbors who might need special attention
in case of emergency.
- Visit new neighbors and give them your phone number in case they need help
with anything or want information about community services.
Be considerate of others.
Be the kind of neighbor you want to have. If you have a problem with a
neighbor, talk to him or her about it. In our neighborhood, we had a barking
dog next door to us and an aggressive dog across the street that was always
running loose. When we spoke to the neighbors about the barking dog, they
immediately began working with the animal until they found a solution. They
discovered that the only way to keep him quiet was to take him on frequent
walks during the day and to put him in the house at night. They do this now
religiously and we let them know how much we appreciate their consideration.
The couple who let their aggressive pit bull run, were not so compliant. We
eventually had to call Animal Regulations. As it turned out, there had been so
many complaints against this dog that they removed it from the home
How can you be a considerate neighbor?
- Keep your yard neat and tidy.
- Keep your animals to yourself. Your pet should only be allowed to invade
your own space, no one elses.
- Maintain peace and quiet. Dont run machinery early in the morning or
late at night. Dont play loud music. Inform your neighbors when
youre planning a party. If they know what to expect, they will tolerate
it better. What time will it start? When will it end? Adhere to this schedule
for your neighbors sake.
We seem more inclined to notice the things that irritate us about people.
They dont keep their leaves raked up. He lets his
trash barrels sit out front for days. I hate it when she parks that
old car in front of our house. Their dog is out running around all
the time. Rather than complaining to the rest of the neighborhood about
these annoyances, see if you can do something about them.
Offer to help repair the gate where the dog is getting out, for example. If
an elderly couple leaves their trash barrels out, put them away as a friendly
gesture. I often rake my neighbors leaves along with mine when Im
cleaning up the street easement in front of our homes. She does the same for me
Theres a woman in California who deserves a neighbor-of-the-year
award. She has taken it upon herself to run errands and deliver the mail to all
of the elderly and disabled residents living in a nearby mobile home park.
Brenda likes to share the fruits of her garden with her neighbors. Every
summer, she delivers bags of homegrown plums to families up and down the block.
A few years ago in Lori and Marks neighborhood, everyone took pride in
their homes and kept their yards up, except for one family. Our next door
neighbor never spent anytime in his yard, said Mark. It was a real
mess and everyone was complaining behind their backs. Finally this
couples landlord paid them a visit. When he saw the condition of the
place, he threatened to evict them if they didnt clean it up. Everyone in
the family began working to clean that place up.
According to Mark, several of the neighbors encouraged this clean up project
by complimenting the familys efforts, by offering cuttings from plants in
their own yards and by loaning them garden tools. Mark even went over and
helped the neighbor trim back an overgrown hedge.
These neighbors have become much more friendly since this
happened, says Lori. You even see them outside more often and they
make it a point to speak to neighbors. Just the other day, when I was out
watering, the woman called me over to the fence and gave me a bag of peaches
from her tree.
If you want to know your neighbors in the most positive way, be generous.
- Take a bouquet of flowers from your garden to a neighbor who has just
moved in or who needs cheering up.
- When you see a neighbor struggling with a project, offer them the help.
Just last evening, in our neighborhood, a Hispanic boy was walking up the
street pushing his bicycle. A neighbor asked why he wasnt riding it and
he explained that something was broken. The neighbor took a look at the bike,
was able to fix it and the boy rode off with a big smile on his face.
Draw neighbors together.
A garage sale offers a good opportunity for neighbors to interact with one
another. Another surefire way to meet neighbors is to roll an appliance, a used
filing cabinet or an old baby stroller out to the curb on a Sunday with a for
sale sign on it. Brian sold an old lawnmower that way and met some of the
neighbors at the same time. Linda gave away an old refrigerator and a washing
machine to a very grateful family with seven children a couple of weeks ago.
She threw in a few articles of her childrens outgrown clothing, too. This
family came back the next day with a large bag of avocados for Linda.
Here are some ideas for additional neighborhood activities:
- A neighborhood potluck or progressive dinner.
- A play group for preschoolers and their parents.
- Join together with other parents on Halloween to make trick-or-treating a
safe experience for the neighborhood children.
Extend your church affiliation
Find out who from your church lives in your neighborhood and start a Bible
study or prayer group in your home. Develop a taxi service to church for the
elderly or disabled.
Volunteer in your neighborhood
A successful neighborhood is one where people are available and willing to
help their neighbors. In fact, some people have only their neighbors to rely
When someone is recovering from surgery or has suffered a loss, do the
neighborly thing and arrange for their meals to be brought in, offer to run
errands or mow their lawn. When you see someone struggling with a heavy load,
offer to help.
You dont have to be neighborly to live in a neighborhood, but it sure
makes life more pleasant and meaningful for everyone involved if you are.
Creating a safer, more peaceful neighborhood is a team effort. Do your part.
Patricia Fry is the author of A Writers
Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press,