One of the best compliments I have received recently is that I have helped to make our new development feel like a community. Today, I am sharing my thoughts on creating community in the city.
Isn’t there an expression that people in the city never get to know their neighbors? When we moved last year, I decided to defy that saying. Instead, I set to work creating a community in the heart of Chicago. And I think I have. In our little community, we meet up for happy hours, deliver soup when someone is sick, let our children play together in the courtyard, and keep an eye out for each other’s packages.
Look, I get it. City dwellers face different issues. We face issues like sharing common areas, sharing walls, and parking beside each other. And sometimes, it seems like one bad neighbor can ruin everything.
While I don’t feel like rehashing the details, things in our last building were tense, mainly because there was one neighbor who had a tendency to go off on everyone. The uncomfortable tension made the building feel less like home. It became a place we were eager to leave.
When we moved, I wanted to ensure that history didn’t repeat itself. The development was still new and had more empty units than occupied ones. I saw it as an opportunity to start creating the culture for the community. It was February 2021, a time when people were still social distancing. I started small. I created a Facebook group, and the building developers shared the link with the other residents. I was thrilled when people started to join the group!
I worked to lead friendly conversations about local businesses, new restaurants, and how everyone was decorating their new homes. I made a point to introduce myself to any neighbors and to remember their names. I would ask for their name and phone number and this information was eventually used to create text chains so that everyone could communicate. And eventually, once more people moved in, my next-door neighbor and I decided to co-host the building’s first in-person event!
We had only met a few people, but our new neighbors came to meet us, carrying homemade snacks to share. I think 40 people came to that party. We have had a few more since! This summer, we had a happy hour in the courtyard and a kid’s movie night. I also organize trick-or-treating in the building each Halloween – it turns out that people without children love to see kids dressed up for Halloween.
I never take it personally when people want to keep to themselves. At the same time, I do my best to make everyone feel welcome at events.
Events can be simple. Sometimes, we just meet up at the nearest bar. Acts of kindness don’t have to be over the top – I’ve picked up soup from a local deli when neighbors have been sick. Or I will make a double batch of a dessert (these brownies are famous around here) so that I have some to share with neighbors.
Events can be big or small. Last winter, a handful of us had a soup swap! Recently, a few of us went to a candle-making class.
I can’t explain how happy it makes me to be getting text messages that say things like: “It was so great getting to know [new neighbor] last night”, “Can Gwen come out to play with the dogs?”, or “We’d like to have everyone over for some holiday cheer”. Instead of angry messages asking “ARE YOU F***ING STUPID?!” It has improved the quality of my life. I love having neighbors that truly feel like friends.
Based on feedback from my neighbors, they love feeling like they are a part of a community. I think it makes home feel more like home.
My advice would be to be friendly, try to create some events where people can get to know each other, be helpful when the situations present themselves, and to gather and share contact details so you can organize social events. Don’t assume that city dwellers don’t want to know their neighbors. In my experience, most do!