“The disappearance of these once-central relationships—between people who are familiar but not close, or friendly but not intimate—lies at the root of America’s economic woes and political gridlock.”
– The Vanishing Neighbor, Marc Dunkelman
Have you talked with a neighbor today?
Would you recognize them at the store?
Would you know if tomorrow’s their birthday?
CITYLAB (from The Atlantic) released a fascinating article Aug 19th: Why Won’t You Be My Neighbor? based on recent data about neighborhood interactions. Striking facts, indicating a steady downward trend in interactions with one’s neighbors, even at the most basic level of knowing their (not just their dogs’) names. “We live in more sprawling communities, where people are literally living further from one another.” Fenced in & tuned out, some would say.
1/3 of Americans have never interacted with people living next door
<20% of Americans spend time regularly with people living next door
Only 1/3 of the population says, “most people can be trusted” – fallen from a majority in the 1970s
“There was this sort of cohort effect [in the 1920s-1960s] in which people…were more inclined in many cases to find security that existed in neighborhoods,” says Marc Dunkelman, who studied the shift in American communities for his book The Vanishing Neighbor (quoted above). “They depended on one another much more.”
Cohousing may not the be-all-end-all to building stronger neighborhoods, but breaking down perceived barriers to interaction (car-centered dwellings, lack of sidewalks/neighborhood walkability, perceptions of unfriendliness, etc.) goes quite a long ways towards fostered camaraderie; which, by the way, is itself defined as “mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.”
As any seasoned cohouser would likely tell you, spending quality time together is inherent in the fabric of these neighborhoods from move-in day on. You won’t walk out on your porch one day to find a new tenant moving in next door unannounced. Cohousing builds community bonds on a daily basis; say, from the simple act of arriving home from a trip to walk past the common house (oh right, tonight’s the harvest gathering! better dig up those cut-outs for the kids to carve with) to passing by a neighbor’s open door (looks like Julie’s back home visiting from college, I’ll stop by later to say hi) to finally arriving at your door to find a welcome back home! pumpkin bread and note on your porch.
Although I don’t myself live in cohousing, I’ve heard enough of these stories to know they’re commonplace, and a crucial part of just why these types of communities are not only successful but wholly necessary in our world today.
It’s no exaggeration to say we’re happier, healthier, longer-living people with these daily social interactions in our lives. Not simply feeling like another face behind a door or car-driver backing out of the carport, but a person who’s relied upon, and who can rely upon others nearby when necessary. A parent whose child seeks out spontaneous play dates both with a friend their age two doors down and an eighty-five-year-old adopted grandparent, eager to show off his model train collection. A seventy-year-old single woman who, having recently lost a spouse, finds community in common meals three times a week, where she can break bread with neighbors to honor her late husbands’ memory.
In cohousing communities your neighbor has more than just a name; they have a common meal specialty, a go-to skill, an evolving relationship with their neighbors – they can’t possibly be faceless. Neighbors tackle issues together, plan parties together and honor the passage of friends and neighbors together. Maybe we won’t solve the world’s problems on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood scale, but building bonds there is certainly not a bad place to start. And that’s why now, more than ever, community is truly priceless.
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