It seems like it’s much harder to get to know a neighbourhood. I remember as a kid growing up in Noble Park, a multicultural, working-class suburb of Melbourne, my family knew lots of people in our street. My brothers and I would often play soccer, cricket and other games in the street. A few decades later I’m living in the inner city and it seems much harder to get to know the neighbours. Maybe society’s changed, maybe I’m seeing my childhood through rose-tinted glasses, and maybe its just easier for kids to make friends than it is for adults. Either way, many of us find that we’d like to get to know our neighbourhoods better. Here are nine ways to do that:
If we have a routine (going to work, going to the gym, going to the shops at the same time each day or week), we’re more likely to run into the same neighbours and gradually get to know them.
If we take time to walk around the neighbourhood instead of driving we’re also more likely to run into neighbours and we’re more likely to notice what’s going on around us.
If we can slow that walk right down and take some time to sit on a park bench we’ll get an opportunity to observe what’s going on in the neighbourhood over a period of time. We might get to know when the neighbourhood’s busy and when it’s quiet. We might get to know who is around when. We might get to notice the birds, insects and other creatures that we share the neighbourhood with.
Eating together in public is another great way of getting to know the neighbourhood. You could have a picnic with some friends at the park, or you could drag some old couches and a coffee table onto the median strip to share a pot of tea. I’ve found that when we do this in public space with our friends we often also come into contact with other neighbours who are around – especially if we’re eating toegther in a place that seems a bit unusual like a median strip or a roundabout. Public barbecues are also a good because we have to work out with others how we’re going to share the barbecue.
- Shop local
Things are difficult for a lot of local businesses like milk bars, green grocers and cafes. They’re often having to compete with bigger businesses outside the neighbourhood that can offer a cheaper but less localised range of product. If you make a routine of visiting a local business each day or each week, the owner and the workers will notice and they’ll appreciate your presence. You might become familiar with other regular customers too. You’ll also be helping to maintain a space in the neighbourhood where neighbours are constantly interacting.
- Pay attention
As we’re following our routine of walking, loitering, eating and shopping around the neighbourhood it’s good to look out for things that pique our curiosity. We might notice a pattern in the street names of the area, or we might notice that there’s one kind of business that is very present in the area or another kind of business that’s absent. If we’re getting to know others around the neighbourhood we can talk together about what we’ve been noticing.
As you were paying attention to your neighbourhood and noticing what makes your neighbourhood unique, you might start to wonder, ‘Why is it that our main street has so many bridal shops?’ or ‘Why are all the street names named after native flowers?’ Finding out more about the history of the area and how it has developed will give you a deeper knowledge of your neighbourhood as a place in history.
- Join something
If you’re wanting to research the local area, joining your local library is a no-brainer. It’s also another place where you’re likely to run into other people. Libraries also often have groups that meet to talk about what you’re reading, to read together or to research local history – another opportunity to get to know your neighbours. (I’m actually writing this at my local library.) If you’re not so interested in joining the library you could join a gym or a sports club or a neighbourhood house – all these kinds of places are spaces for mediated interaction with neighbours.
This last one is a controversial one – and I’m not totally sure I agree with it – but I think it is still good to offer in case someone finds it helpful. Everyone knows that neighbours don’t always get along, but I wonder if that’s a good thing? The fact that next door’s kids were playing loud music until 2am on Tuesday morning before I had to go to work is a pain in the arse. I normally feel like it would be impolite to say something, but I’m challenged by the fact that some of the neighbours I know best are actually people who’ve complained to our household about things!
So those are my nine suggestions about how to get to know your neighbourhood. If you try any of these out, let me know how it goes! Also let me know if you have a tenth suggestion.