15 Ways to Make Your Neighborhood Better

Does your community lack … well, a sense of community? Here’s how to strengthen that neighborly spirit

Mitchell Parker

We all want to be better neighbors — or at least have better neighbors. But what can we do? How do you build a better community for yourself and your family? The answer is actually quite simple: Get to know your neighbors. Just interacting with the people you live near can significantly strengthen your community and spur organization.

Ashe Urban, a community outreach coordinator at the SE Uplift Neighborhood Coalition in Portland, Oregon, has seen firsthand how community involvement leads to better neighborhoods. While her city is set up a bit differently than most — a city-commission structure and a financed Neighborhood Involvement office ensure that neighborhood coalitions receive guaranteed city funds that can then be distributed to neighborhood associations throughout the city — Urban says any neighborhood can benefit from a little face-to-face time.

“Civic engagement doesn’t have to be about meetings and city hall,” Urban says. “It doesn’t have to be a stodgy, administrative, nerdy thing. Anything that gets neighbors out talking gives them solidarity and power. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting to know your neighbors and seeing what happens.”

Here are 15 ways to get your neighbors working together right now.

1. Paint your intersection. A street intersection is not something you think of as interesting. But in Portland, residents in some neighborhoods have made them really worth stopping for. Some paint, creative people and a bright design are all it takes to bring neighbors together and produce something the whole community can be proud of.

2. Make a poetry box. The idea is simple, really: create a box with a glass or clear plastic front. Put this box on a post. Write your own poem or print out your favorite classic and display it in the box for all your neighbors to see.

You can also set up a separate drop box and encourage neighbors to write their own poems and drop them in the box. Post the poems from your neighbors as they come in.

Don’t have time to build a box? Enlist the help of a poetry box builder.

3. Set up a tool library. How often do you need a leaf blower? Or a chain saw? And how often do you use that electric cake mixer? Tool libraries answer this dilemma by creating a space where neighbors can donate rarely used appliances to share. Check with a local business, community center or church group about space that can house a tool library.

4. Set up a book library. We’ve showed you how to make your own Little Free Library, but architect and photographer John Locke took that concept to a more urban level. He turned old, unused pay phones in New York City into small lending libraries.
by Westover Landscape Design,…
5. Turn your front yard into your backyard. How often do you run into your neighbors in your backyard? Probably never. Moving your typical backyard activity to the front instantly makes you more visible and approachable. Establishing front-yard gardens, building community benches and even just barbecuing in your front yard are all great ways to connect with your community.
by Kipnis Architecture + Planning
6. Collectively buy solar panels. Don’t have a budget for solar panels? No problem. Just socialize. People across the country are now pooling their resources to collectively buy solar panels in bulk at a discount for their communities. (The idea started in Portland.)
by American Red Cross
7. Set up an emergency preparedness network. If disaster strikes it’s important to have people who know what to do. Establishing a common meeting space for your neighbors, appointing community members to take on various roles and having supplies ready can help strengthen your neighborhood and make things less chaotic should that unfortunate day ever come.
by Amy Renea
8. Organize a garden tour. Got a thriving garden? Why not share it with others? Organize a neighborhood garden tour and invite neighbors to check out one another’s gardens to learn growing tips, sample fresh produce and mingle.
by Noelle Johnson Landscape…
9. Plant a tree. Maybe it’s an intersection or a street corner that lacks greenery, or maybe it’s a neighbor in need of some landscaping, but planting trees is a good way to overhaul your neighborhood and build ties with neighbors.
by Terri Reilly Design
10. Throw a block party. As if you need a reason to throw a party. There’s no better way to get to know your neighbors than over food and drinks. Some cities make it easier to throw block parties than others, so check with your city about any permits needed.

11. Tell a story. Storytelling nights are popular in Portland. Neighbors get together at coffee shops or the library to tell stories about things that have happened in their neighborhood. It’s a great way to hear about your neighbors’ lives and get to know them.

12. Go for more walks and bike rides. One of the best, easiest things you can do to get to know your neighbors is hit the pavement more often.

13. Carpool. Oftentimes people living in the same neighborhood work in the same area. Set up a ride share in your neighborhood to save gas and money and to get to know your neighbors.

14. Buy and shop locally. You’re more likely to run into members of your community if you shop at local boutiques and grocery stores.

15. Brand your neighborhood. It’s important for communities to feel important and establish an identity. Some residents tackle this by creating their own logo for the neighborhood that they put on banners to hang on light poles and other places around the community.

Tell us: What do people in your neighborhood do to get people interacting?

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