No two neighborhoods are alike. Each has its own unique characteristics and personalities.
Some are filled with people who have known each other for years and like to chit-chat over coffee on their porches, while others are made up of individuals who prefer to stay to themselves.
No matter which kind of neighborhood you live in—and whether you live in an apartment building, condo or a single-family home with a sprawling yard—here are some tips that will go a long way towards building harmony and a shared sense of community.
Get to know your neighbors
Let’s start with the basics. Introduce yourself. This means walking around, shaking hands and talking face-to-face. Let your neighbors know your name, where you live, and any other details you’d like to share. Find out if they have kids at the same school as yours or if they also work nights like you. Learn to recognize them by name.
Once you know the names of your neighbors, you can greet them when you see them in the elevator or on the street. If you learn the names of their pets, you can say hi to them too. Once you’ve introduced yourself and spoken a few times, you can choose to exchange phone numbers and/or email addresses—whatever feels comfortable.
Another way to get to know your neighbors might be to host a block party or similar group event. Some folks we know host an annual barbecue the same weekend every year. They invite the whole neighborhood and ask everyone to bring a dish. They play music (not too loudly), fire up the grill and wait to see who shows up! Zillow has some more great ideas here.
Being considerate about other people’s needs and interests is a big part of being a good neighbor. Remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For example, if you live directly above someone, don’t clomp around wearing loud shoes in your apartment. Also consider putting linoleum or rubber matting underneath appliances to muffle their surrounding noise. If you know that your neighbors are out of town but you see a package getting soaking wet on their porch, move it to a dry place. If you notice that a neighbor’s garbage can is lying on its side, spilling rotten food and trash into the street, put on a pair of gloves and spend a few minutes picking it up. They’ll be grateful you did (and they might just do the same for you some day).
Share information related to safety
Typically, the key information for neighbors to know and share is fire and safety-related. If you live in a wildfire zone, does your community association sponsor debris removal days to encourage people to clean up their yards? Let everyone know. The Bay Area is a notorious earthquake zone. Is there information on evacuation routes or tips for what to do in an emergency? Spread the word. You can either do this by sharing notes slipped under their door or in their mailbox, or you can create an email list and share the information electronically. Almost everyone will appreciate having the information. Is your neighborhood on Nextdoor? That's a great place to start.
Show responsibility for children & pets
Part of being a good neighbor is taking responsibility for your pets and kids as well as for your own behavior. If you have a dog, keep it on a leash rather than letting it dig up holes or poop all over your neighbor’s lawn. Find out if there are neighbors who are afraid of dogs (especially kids) and make sure to be careful and considerate when your dog encounters them.
If you do have children, you can use your neighborly behavior as a "teaching moment." Show your kids how to be friendly towards neighbors by teaching them how to nod or give a friendly wave. Explaining to kids how their behavior and the noise they make affects their neighbors can go a long way toward helping them develop an understanding of how they fit into the larger world around them. Letting your children accompany you when you check in on elderly or disabled neighbors is also a good opportunity for modeling neighborly behavior for your kids.
Keep your home’s exterior & driveway clean
You probably know that you will gain respect and appreciation from your fellow neighbors if you keep your home’s surrounding areas tidy, but there are other benefits as well. You may actually deter crime by showing that your neighborhood is cared for and well-tended. Mowed lawns and fresh paint discourage suspicious individuals from taking cover. If you happen to have an abandoned lot near you—which might attract unsavory characters—ask neighbors to help you clean up weeds, remove debris, and plant some trees. Turn an eyesore into an asset.
Keep an eye out for the more vulnerable
An important aspect of being a good neighbor is taking care of those who are more vulnerable: the elderly and/or the disabled. It’s especially important to look in on vulnerable individuals in incidents of extreme weather or if there’s flooding or a power outage in the neighborhood. Offer to help out with pet care or home maintenance.
Most importantly, you’ll want to help them with the basics. Bring over a nourishing meal (or even a few) and some extra blankets and warm clothing. Make sure they have flashlights (slips and falls are common—even without the lights out—and can lead to broken hips and other injuries). When in doubt, just ask if there is anything you can do to provide some assistance.
Resolve potential conflicts right away
One of the "golden rules" of being a good neighbor is not to be a gossip. Don’t spread rumors among other neighbors. Gossip and rumors are disrespectful and damaging to all parties. In the event of disagreements or conflicts, be open-minded and direct. Keep the lines of communication open. Practice being a good listener and try not to be defensive. When discussing an issue or problem, try to understand your neighbor’s point of view. Summarize what you hear and ask questions to clarify your understanding of their view of the problem. If you need to, take a break to consider what you and your neighbor have discussed. If the conversation gets too heated, simply arrange a time to finish it later.
Taking simple steps to be a good neighbor can work wonders to make our daily lives safer and happier. Small investments in thoughtful living and friendly interactions can pay dividends in overall wellbeing for years to come.