Upfront - Won't You Be My Neighbor?

When You Connect With Those Who Live Around You, You Improve The Lives Of Everyone In Your Community

Upfront - Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I love this time of year in Hampton Roads— when spring has fully sprung and the vibrant community we all share ventures outside to our front porches and back decks, our trails and sidewalks, our Oceanfront’s sand and our rivers’ banks. In May and June, it’s easy to be hypnotized by all the region has to offer. You know Hampton Roads is one of the best places to live when it’s possible to attend more festivals in one weekend alone than you have fingers.

But it’s also easy to get burned out trying to revel in the region’s bounty of entertainment. Fortunately, deep in our roots, we’re a Mid-Atlantic, Southern region mixed with the ethos of a coastal community.

No matter where you live, odds are you either have a backyard, a front porch or a small park nearby. The promise of spring and summer in Hampton Roads is not only about all the fun and festivals the region offers; it’s also a great time to forge connections with our neighbors.

In today’s busy world, we multi-task even the most meditative moments. No longer do we enjoy a walk down the sidewalk or a beer under a shady tree.

There are texts to send and emails to check. Did you even notice that cloud that looks like a horse and carriage? Did you see the neighbor’s kid waving as he rode by on his bike?

Nowadays, nearly everyone spends untold wasted time on social networks “connecting” with people they never actually see in real life—or care to see.

We have created an illusion of thousands of friends, when in actuality, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, only 19 percent of people knew all of their neighbors’ names, and just 24 percent knew most of them. Twenty-nine percent knew some neighbors, while—shame on us all—28 percent of us knew absolutely none of our neighbors. Other studies have that number even higher, ranging from 50 to 71 percent.

For a culture that seems to be obsessed with networking, friending and connecting, we seem pretty isolated from the people who are literally right next door.

I’m willing to optimistically bet that we in Hampton Roads do better than the rest of the nation in connecting with neighbors. After all, we do have the built-in porches, yards and parks that mix well with our Mid-Atlantic, Southern friendliness. But there’s always room for improvement.

The benefits of neighborliness are numerous, and they extend beyond the personal. Building strong communities, towns and cities starts one neighbor and one neighborhood at a time. Getting to know our neighbors can and will lead to better regionalism and a more unified regional voice, not to mention more friends for your kids to play with and an extra hand to help you rake leaves when you have the flu.

The best part is the diversity you will find when you get to know those who live around you. While you may not agree on politics or religion, you will probably agree that keeping an eye out on each other’s kids just makes the neighborhood safer.

I am going to assign you some springtime homework, gentle readers: Get to know at least one neighbor that you don’t already know. Share a glass of wine on the back deck with the couple next door. Make plans to grill out with the folks across the street. Live in an apartment or a condo? Host a floor party on a Saturday afternoon.

Perhaps you already host thriving neighborhood barbecues. Great! Invite someone new—expand your vibrant circle.

You may not agree on the best food to grill or whether charcoal or propane sears a better steak, but I bet you’ll agree that sitting outside with a cold beer or an icy lemonade while connecting with those who share your afternoon view is a pretty fine way to pass the time on a lazy Sunday.