Last year I found out that once you move into a house, a question a lot of people will ask is “How are your neighbours?” Which makes sense because there is the close proximity within which you will both be living your lives. Neighbours are important. If you’re away for a few days, there is comfort with knowing that the good people next door will be keeping an eye out. Even if you have family or a friend checking on your house, it’s the neighbours who will recognize behaviour or events that might be out of the ordinary.
These are the folks who will warn you about events happening on your street, like car break-ins, vandalism, or suspicious ‘furnace inspectors’ knocking on doors. It’s only your neighbours who are equally concerned about local services, like schools, libraries, or community centres. Only the residents on your street or in your area face the same daily gripes that you do.
Like most communities, it is the unfortunate case that it’s usually difficult circumstances that unite us. All it takes is a drive down Henderson Highway these days to see how the impending loss of the urgent care facility at Concordia is uniting the 27km stretch of road. Back to our neighbourhood, River Heights is regularly united by car break-ins, and a deeply held belief in NIMBY-ism. Google ‘River Heights Residents Angry’ and you can see a lengthy and varied search return. The majority of residents obviously value the status quo. If you zoom out a bit, there is a clear difference in the level of community between neighbourhoods with different demographics. As anyone that has lived in the North End will tell you, the sense of community is palpable. Everyone places a much higher value on community and make a huge effort to be friendly with each other. In contrast, talk to anyone who lives in Tuxedo. Many of them don’t even know what their neighbours look like, let alone their names. It might be the money that makes the difference. After all, how many of us end up chatting with the neighbour over the fence while mowing the lawn or gardening. If that work is done by a contractor, that opportunity is gone. Home and neighbourhood design have changed as well over the years. With big attached garages, you can avoid contact with people altogether by driving in and out. When my parents moved to the city, I could match each SUV to the corresponding house, but I don’t think I could have placed a single driver in a police lineup.
Currently, we have great neighbours. They’re friendly, and although slightly eccentric, none of them appear to sell drugs, belong to gangs, or live a pesticide-free lifestyle (hippies: everyone’s least favorite suburban neighbour). We are familiar enough to know the names of their pets and their general lifestyle. Even better, is that we have neighbour-friends that we alternate hosting dinners with and they’re a really wonderful couple. It didn’t happen by accident though. They put in conscious effort to welcome us to the area when we moved in. They extended an invitation to get together and gave us their phone number. If it weren’t for those gestures, we would likely have lived for years next to a great couple without getting to know them. Transcona has a great festival called the Hi Neighbourfestival which I first thought was kind of a cheesy idea. And maybe it is a little bit, but I think it really underscores the value of getting to know the people around you. Social media fascinates us because it shows the exotic, the exciting, the everything else. Meanwhile we’ve stopped valuing our own reality because it seems less interesting in comparison. Until that difficult circumstance comes along, we don’t need the people who live nearby. Instead of waiting for that day to come, we should make the effort now. Being a neighbour is more than just living next to each other, it’s also finding value in the sense of community that that closeness provides. And in order to do that, we have to cultivate those relationships, like our neighbour friends did, by making the effort.
Thinking about this made me revisit Mr. Rogers and his timeless invitation: