Do You Know Your Neighbors? (Losing the Neighborhood)

When we were young, a smiling Mr. Rogers asked us to be his neighbor. He taught me more than to put popcorn in my peanut butter and jelly. He taught me to believe in community, to smile and make friends. To be kind to strangers.

Does anyone in real life have neighbors like our friends on TV do?

Lucy and Ricky had Ethel and Fred. Fred and Wilma had Betty and Barney. Wilson was always available for a strange metaphorical lesson for the Taylor family on Home Improvement. George Feeney was always willing to lend an ear on Boy Meets World, Joey and Chandler were right across the hall whenever Monica and Rachel needed some friendly banter, and Winnie Cooper will always be the epitome of the girl next door. 

Although many of these TV friendships were created for easy plot conventions, I can’t help but think about how people treated their neighbors 40-50 years ago. When you could easily skip across the street to borrow a cup of milk or trust your kids to go knock on the neighbor’s door to ask their kids to play. When you could ask your neighbor to help you with some handy work or when bbqs and Friday night happy hours were shared events. 

I’ve never interacted with a neighbor that way and that makes me sad. 

A 2013 study by State Farm shows that only 25% of American know the names of their next door neighbors. 

What happened to our sense of community? And how is it hurting us?

We’re all too busy inside with our “social” media and Netflix binges. Our focus is on individualism and in turn our needs are more selfish and our sense of responsibility to community have gone way down. We are more alienated now then we have ever been. Also, we are all full of mistrust and weariness. We live in a world where we have every right to be scared of our neighbors.

Is our focus on individualism and our  mistrust of others linked? I certainly believe so.

Ryan and I live in a condo/townhome community, surrounded by hundreds of neighbors. We walk the walking trails and pass the same neighbors again and again, greeting with a slight nod of the head or a half-smile. Despite all of this, I know the names of only one couple that lives across the street. And it’s all because they made the effort.

They came over and greeted us when we moved in two years ago. They smiled big smiles and insisted that if we ever needed anything, they were there. It was comforting. Six months later they saw us moving in some new used furniture we bought off Craigslist and they very kindly gifted us a beautiful dresser and mirror they were trying to sell. Every morning they greet me with a bellowing “Hello, Katie!” Since then I’ve introduced myself to a few other neighbors and have been met with a little apprehension on their end. 

Sometimes when I take Maggie out at night, barefoot in my pajamas, I become overcome with anxiety that I’ve locked myself out of the house. My keys and cellphone safely locked inside while I’m abandoned out in the cold in my ugliest pajamas. Who’s door would I knock on to let me use their phone? Who should I trust? Who would trust me?

I try to hold the belief that most people are good at heart. But it’s hard for that hope to withstand when you read the news.

Our alienation and individualism is cutting down our civic duty. In this highly connected world we are very disconnected from those closest to us. Our neighbors. When shootings happen in schools and neighborhoods are threatened with homicides and robberies and community riots get out of hand are reaction is to hide and blockade ourselves rather than work together for a common good.

Isn’t putting aside our differences and working together for a common good what our nation was founded on? I can’t help but see that if we started to rebuild that connection with our community, if we started to bond together and help one another, our mistrust will also lessen. 

How do we put the “neighbor” back into the “hood”? So tell me, do you know your neighbors? Are you involved in your community? 

  • SInce I just moved, I’ve been trying to get more involved in our community, but I also don’t know our neighbors. I got a nice note in the mail from the family next door, so I know their names, but I haven’t actually met them, and I’ve been here for more than a month now. :-\

    • kwalshmac

      That’s nice to hear that you are getting more involved in a new community. Uprooting to a new place is always hard, but it makes for a great opportunity to put yourself out there!

  • People always feel awkward striking up a conversation, but if you put yourself in their shoes and a friendly neighbor started chatting, I bet most everyone would be pleased to make the connection. Just have to get past the initial greeting.

    My husband and I moved to our house in October and have been loving meeting our neighbors. The best way to meet was by raking the lawn and doing yard work. There is another young couple a few doors down that we bonded with instantly while doing yard work (they even lent us their leaf blower). We met the neighbors on both sides and across the street the same way. Halloween proved to be a great way to meet more folks on the block. They all knew the former owners and were excited to meet us. Our block even has a yearly block party and sent out a contact list for the block!

    I also recommend joining, it shows you how much people really want to be part of a community.

    • kwalshmac

      Wow! Sounds like you live in a great neighborhood! That’s awesome that you have a block party and they even sent out a contact list. And I know you’re right, most people are open to making the connection, it’s just getting over the initial hurdle. In general it just saddens me a bit that the idea of community is dwindling.

  • When I was younger we moved a lot as dad was in the army, the neighbours we had were all army quarters and there was a good community spirit, the wives all supported each other and all the kids hung out on the street together no matter the age. Now though it’s different, I do see my neighbours in passing, say hello, they know Mr will help them out with borrowing a tool, or if they are in trouble (last night it was my neighbours washing machine leaking) but I don’t want them in my house every day I think everyone is just busier these days and protective of their space x

    • kwalshmac

      That’s nice that you grew up in various supportive neighborhoods. Things have changed, for sure, and I’m worried about the mistrust that is growing among anyone who is a “stranger” or “outsider”. Our city is experiencing a fresh wave of violence in safe neighborhoods, making everyone extra cautious and anxious. Don’t even get me started on all the violence from cops and on cops going on in our nation. It just makes me sad that during times when we should be coming together we are distancing ourselves more and more.

  • Wow it was like you took the thoughts right out of my head! My husband and I (along with our toddler) live in a townhouse community and we don’t know any of our neighbors.It got to the point where we were living here for 2 years and would feel so awkward when our neighbors two townhomes down ( about our age) would be outside. We had never introduced ourselves and neither had they. But so much time had gone by that it felt more awkward to do it now! So we just avoided. Thankfully (for awkward sake) they moved, and I introduced myself to the new neighbors that moved in.

    But I had that fear of locking myself out, come true, with a baby on my hip!

    Great post! I often wonder what happened to the community aspect of neighborhoods. We are building a house and will be moving to a cute little neighborhood and I will make it my mission to meet everyone!

    • kwalshmac

      haha I’m glad I’m not alone in not knowing neighbors in townhouse community. Most the people in our neighborhood are retirees, we are one of the few “young” couples, which makes it a little harder. It’s good that you connected with your new neighbors!

      And oh my, getting locked out with your baby!

      Good luck on your move and I hope you like your new neighborhood!

  • Neighbors have turned out to be a funny thing for us. When we moved into our house all of the neighbors came by and said hello. I was so touched, really, because we were so tired and remodeling everything and it’s sort of scary moving somewhere new. And most of our neighbors are still really kind, but there were a couple who certainly made a very welcoming warm first impression who haven’t made an effort since that first week… Which is okay, but does make me a little bit sad because I thought we were moving into a culdesac where everyone is so close knit and fun together.

    Last week one of our neighbors asked me to gather their packages while they were gone and that seems to have opened the door to relationship. Like needing each other (even in a sort of superficial way) makes it easier to relate/care for/enjoy one another.

    And I can only imagine what having kids will do to all of it!

    • kwalshmac

      Hi Amber! sorry for the late response, it’s that crazy time of year!

      That’s nice that when you first moved the neighbors were so welcoming, you don’t get that everywhere….sad though that they didn’t keep it up. It does take effort and I guess it’s not a priority for many people. It’s nice to have people to lean on and that also can trust you enough to do the same. I think we are losing a lot of that trust.

      I know kids will be good “ice breakers” for neighbors, I’d hope at least! I’d love for my kids to have a safe neighborhood (like I had) to run around and play in with neighbors that open that doors warmly.

  • You’re right, it’s a totally different world now! A scary world, all too often. I only know about three of my neighbors, but I’m in an apartment, so they’re the three closest to us that I see all the time in the hallways, laundry room, parking lot, etc. I do wonder how that will change when we have a house, and I do worry about the kind of neighbors we’ll have. I’d love to have a relationship with at least one nearby neighbor, for reasons like you said – get locked out and need to borrow their phone or ask a favor, borrow something, etc. I remember when I was a kid, I would visit my neighbors all the time because my mom made the point of getting to know everyone on the road, and we knew who was nice. One lady always had fresh cookies for me and let me play with her grandkids toys when I came over. As much as I’d love that for my kids, I realize that’s not the kind of world we live in anymore, to assume that everyone is safe. I guess we didn’t back then either, but with technology, we’re a different breed of people now, I think. Great topic, Katie.