Posted by: Rael Kalley | January 28, 2012

130. Do you live in a community or just a neighbourhood?

Last night, January 27th, I went to a Christmas party.

A bit odd don’t you think?  Christmas, as I recall, is usually held on December 25 and it seems that most Christmas parties take place in the few weeks leading up to that date.

This Christmas party was somewhat different. This was a party being held in the condominium building where my wife and I live.

We live in a complex which consists of two high-rises with a total of 230 suites and approximately 500 residents.

The purpose of this Christmas party was twofold. A year ago at Christmas time the condo had its first ever Christmas party for residents. This year during the month of December the area in which parties are held was under construction as a new gym was being built for the benefit of all residents.

I am a member of the condo board and we decided to defer the Christmas party until sometime in January when we could belatedly celebrate Christmas with all residents as well as showcase our magnificent new gym.

At least that was the story that I shared with my fellow board members when we discussed these events several months ago.

 I had a third reason for promoting this party and encouraging as many residents as possible to attend.

Several months ago I read an eye-opening article on the changing dynamics of neighborhood communities.

The researchers, operating in several cities across North America, ventured into residential neighborhoods, knocked on doors and asked people how well they knew their neighbors.

It seems the answer to that question was, “not well at all.”

The research highlighted a rather troubling piece of information.

They asked people how well they knew their neighbors on either side of their house, two doors down, three doors down, across the street etc.

Not surprisingly, the further away their neighbors lived, the less likely it was that they had even met them. The real disturbing piece of information was that some 20% of those interviewed him acknowledged that they did not know the neighbors on either side of their house even when those neighbors had lived next door to them for as long as five years.

A further 35% said that theywhile they did know the names of their neighbors, they had only a nodding relationship with them whenever they saw them and that they had never visited the neighbor’s home or had them over to theirs.

They then turned their attention to high-rise residential buildings. They sought those that had an average of six suites per floor and asked people living in those buildings the same questions; how well they knew their neighbors.

They expected, because of the close proximity of suites to each other and the relative smallness of the common areas – the hallways, elevators, lobbies and parking stalls – that people in high-rises would be better acquainted with their neighbors.

They were wrong. Their research found that  more than fifteen percent of people did not know the names of their next-door neighbor even though they saw them an average of twice a week in the hallways and elevators. Twenty-two percent admitted knowing the names of their neighbors but had no other knowledge of them and had never socialized or interacted with them in any way at all.

Only nineteen percent said that they knew their neighbors well, and that they interacted with them an average of once each month.

Four percent, a rather low number, said they knew their neighbors really well and were comfortable exchanging services with them, like leaving the mailbox keys with their neighbors when away on vacation have or leaving their pets in their neighbour’s care.

And so my third reason for wanting the party was to encourage a mindset of converting our condo from a cold clinical building that houses 500 people of many races, creeds and languages, living closely together in stony isolation, to a community of folks who know ,respect and lookout for each other.

We have had social functions before and they have always been fairly successful. This one was different. I approached two of our board members and asked them, along with me, to introduce ourselves to as many people as possible during the course of the evening and then to introduce those people to as many other people as possible.

So for three of us this was to be an evening of hard work. And work hard we did. And we met a lot of new people – approximately one hundred and forty people attended our party – and at some point during the evening I spoke with each one of them as did my colleagues. And we introduced neighbor to neighbor throughout the evening.

And even though this was just a beginning, over the span of a few short hours, a few interesting things happened.

Two people mentioned to me that as a result of meeting each other they were going to be gym partners and work out together several times each week. 

Two others discovered they had friends in common and during the course of that evening called those friends and arranged a dinner out in the next several weeks.

Other folks agreed to meet with us over the weekend for a tour of the building so that they could see firsthand how a building as large as ours is maintained and we are going to walk them through the boiler rooms and mechanical rooms so they can have an understanding of how their home actually functions.

Perhaps most importantly we have agreed, with the backing of several dozen people, to have more of these functions and so as a condo board we will turn our attention to trying to arrange some kind of function of this nature on a semi-regular basis.

In fact, three of residents, strangers before the evening began, decided to work together and organize another building get-together towards the end of March.

The article I read was the catalyst to my motivation for wanting these parties, but another reason had developed several months prior.

A resident had knocked on my door shortly after midnight to tell me that someone had parked their car in his parking stall.

He told me that the car belonged to his next-door neighbor, a new resident in the building, who probably had parked in the wrong stall by mistake.

And would I please go and talk to the neighbour?

I asked him what I thought to be an obvious question; why didn’t he knock on the neighbour’s door and ask him to move his vehicle.

Or better yet, considering it was past midnight, why didn’t he simply park his car in his neighbours stall and discuss the matter with him in the morning.

He told me that he was not comfortable knocking on his neighbor’s door, had never met him and was not sure what the reaction would be.

He felt, that as a member of our condo board, I should do this for him.

I told him that this issue involved him, his neighbour, his car and his parking stall and pointed out that I was not a part of this story.

I suggested that he wait until morning and then introduce himself to his neighbour and, perhaps in so doing, make himself a new friend.

He told me that it was my job as a condo board member to resolve this for him and if I wouldn’t do it he was going to call the police and ask them to talk to his neighbour.

Call the police?

Yikes!

What have we become?

I’m not sure how this matter ended but it did make me wonder what it is that prevents us from knocking on our neighbors doors when we have a question to ask of them.

It seems to me that the whole notion of neighborhoods – communities – as they once were, are in a sad state of decline and that we are in danger of losing something of immense value.

 There was a time in very recent history, when we all knew our neighbors. We visited with them, the kids all played together, and everyone looked out for each other.

Sadly we have moved away from this togetherness. Many neighbourhoods have simply become geographic demarcations where strangers live in close proximity.

The article I was reading some mentioned a few other interesting points.

In those few neighborhoods canvassed by the researchers where residents did seem to know their neighbors well, knew the neighbors several houses down from either side of their property and knew many of the neighbors across the street; where there were somewhat regular neighborhood functions, block parties, street games for the kids, and a strong sense of community, the researchers noticed that there was a corresponding lack of conflict between neighbours.  

And when they checked with the local police they learned that those neighborhoods seemed to enjoy significantly lower crime rates than others in the city is, principally because neighbors were more aware of unusual activity in the neighborhood and would call the police whenever they noticed suspicious activities.

People living in neighborhoods without that neighbor-to-neighbor closeness – without a tight sense of community – generically did not pay as much attention to anything that appeared to be out of place or, if they did notice unusual activity, they tended to ignore it.

I believe we will build better societies if we go back to the days when neighborhoods and high-rise building were indeed communities.

And we all knew each other.

And looked out for each other.

And were willing to get involved when necessary.

What’s the worst that can happen if we did that?

Perhaps end up with a whole bunch of new friends?

Would that be so bad?

I’m not sure so I’m going to ask my neighbours what they think of this idea.

And tell them to park their own damn cars in their own damn stalls

Before I call the police.

Till we read again.


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