A Holistic Overview of Neighboring
We know that people like you want to see the world get better. We want to play a role in ending chronic material poverty, illness, systemic racism, and even the hurts of everyday life. If you’re here, you likely also know that the traditional models that are used to tackle these issues aren’t working. Right now, a child born into material poverty in the US has a 16% chance of escaping it. This is despite millions of dollars — public, private, and nonprofit — being poured into poverty alleviation efforts. What we are doing, though compassionate and courageous, is not moving the needle. Things. Must. Change.
We can start by changing our mindsets and models, and one of the biggest is a transition to prioritizing proximity and neighboring.
Some solutions can happen on a large scale, but most positive change often happens close to home. Most importantly, lasting change happens when we involve people who are affected by systemic issues. The people who can make the greatest difference in our lives are actually the ones who live closest to us and closest to the realities we want to see transformed. When developing a strategy, it makes sense to involve the neighbors who surround us and who have the most at stake.
Today, we’ll break down the basics of involving residents and getting close to them. We call this collection of paradigms and practices neighboring.
What Is A Neighbor?
The Webster’s Dictionary definition of neighbor is simply this: “One who lives near another.” This definition points out something critical: neighbors are geographically close. A neighbor includes the person who lives next door and the people you encounter nearby on a regular basis, like the person who works at your local grocery store or pastors your local church. Neighbors are found through relationship and connection, not just street addresses. Connections with neighbors have an outsize impact on people.
Research shows that neighbors are hyper-local. Life outcomes are affected by the people in a small radius – just half a mile around where a person lives. Anyone outside that half-mile circle has minimal impact on a person’s life (statistically speaking). That means that if you want to see a neighborhood transformed, getting close is essential.
What Is “Neighboring”?
When we use the term “neighboring,” we mean the act of investing in a neighbor’s well-being on both an individual and systemic level. This means cultivating positive relationships and interactions on purpose. Try saying hello every day to the people you see on the street. You can work to connect with folks one-on-one through specific events, but also consider advocating for whole systems that will encourage the community to flourish. This can look like showing up at the local civic association, neighborhood planning unit meetings, or city council meetings.
In essence, neighboring involves knowing and understanding your community’s members, the systems that affect it, and its history. Getting to know a neighborhood in this deep way takes time, and it takes work! That’s why lasting, effective neighborhood development work can look pretty slow, especially in the beginning.
It might feel counterintuitive, but investing in this slow, trust-building work in the beginning is actually the best way to speed the process of transformation.
Why Does Neighboring Matter?
Knowing your neighbors has big benefits, both for you and your community. Neighbor connectivity increases safety, improves health, offers opportunities for better jobs, and more. However, interactions with neighbors have declined over time. 34% of Americans said they “never” socialize with neighbors on a General Social Survey in 2016; that’s an all-time high. We’ve lost a big benefit that neighborhood interaction used to provide.
Where you grow up has a profound impact on your future potential. As we mentioned before, projects like Opportunity Atlas demonstrate that the .5 mile radius where you grow up determines much about your future, including your income and likelihood of incarceration. When you’re supported by a community that encourages and empowers you, your outlook dramatically improves.
If you’re a person of faith, you’re likely encouraged to be a good neighbor, but the importance of neighboring goes beyond religion. It’s an ethical choice to benefit everyone when you help to shape the local environment. Whether you are motivated by faith or simply good ethics, it makes sense to find ways to positively impact the people who live near you.
However, if you’re a church or non profit looking to make a difference, neighboring isn’t just a good idea; it’s essential. It’s virtually impossible to have a positive impact on an area without engaging it in on a micro and macro level. Once you’ve determined that as a primary motivation, you can begin to see real and lasting change.
How To Be A Good Neighbor and Start Neighboring
How can you start? There are simple steps to begin neighboring well. Keep in mind, motivation and persistence over time is key here.
- Get close. it’s impossible to be a good neighbor without actually being nearby on a regular basis for large amounts of time. We call this proximity. Attend a book club or block party. Invite people into your home.
- Show up. Get involved in what’s going on locally. Attend events, become part of civic organizations, etc. Spend time in parks. Be aware of the people around you and don’t be afraid to begin conversation with them. Understand that you are part of this community.
- Get to know people. Take the time to ask questions, be friendly, and follow up. This can be a source of stress for some, but it’s something that becomes easier with practice. Remember that everyone enjoys positive social interaction.
- Incorporate regular kindnesses. Whether it’s helping someone rake leaves or becoming active in a civic organization, show that you care. Understand the immediate needs of the people who live nearby, and make the effort to help.
- Learn about the neighborhood. Understand its history and residents. Know who lives here and why. Identify who leaves, and for what reason. No community exists in a vacuum, and understanding how external factors have shaped the landscape is key.
- As much as possible, drop the agenda. Focus on getting to know the people and place for their own sake. When people sense your genuine care and interest, they’ll respond in kind. You’ll be pleased to find that on most occasions, you’ll benefit as much (or more) than the neighbors you’ve reached out to.
Neighboring is a collection of mindsets and practices that allow you to get to know your community’s residents, systems, and history. It involves taking the time to get close, learn, and form relationships. Neighboring takes time, but it can start with a few simple habits like showing up and local events. Most of all, neighboring is the single most important building block of lasting, effective development work.
We’ll be writing more about how to transform your local community through engagement with neighbors. Follow along in this series for more insights. And if you want to take the conversation a step further, consider booking a 30-minute conversation with us about how you can start becoming a better neighbor.