"Communities work better (students perform better, crime rates are lower, kids are safer, people live longer) when neighbors know one another better. Knowing your neighbor on a first-name basis...is a surprisingly effective first step."
- Robert Putnam, Harvard Public Policy Professor and author of Bowling Alone
- Robert Putnam, Harvard Public Policy Professor and author of Bowling Alone
While advancements in technology have made it possible for us to connect with people from around the world, numerous studies show that it has led to a decline in face-to-face interactions.1
In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard Public Policy Professor Robert Putnam “draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often.”2
How is this shift impacting our overall well being? A study by Oregon Health & Science University researchers found that having limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles an individual’s risk of depression.3
CONNECTING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY
If you’re considering a move to a new city or neighborhood, you may be worried about replacing the comfort and support of family and friends you’ll leave behind. Or perhaps you have completed a move but would like to meet more people, build friendships and strengthen your support system.
In this post, we’ll explore 10 ways you can utilize technology to foster in-person connections with your neighbors, make friends and get engaged in your local community.
1. JOIN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD’S SOCIAL NETWORK
A growing number of neighborhoods are utilizing private social networks like U.S.-based Nextdoor and Canadian-based GoNeighbour. These platforms are designed specifically to connect neighbors.
Residents post about a variety of topics, including neighborhood news, recommendations for local businesses, lost pets, etc. But don’t just use them to connect virtually. Extend an invitation to your neighbors to attend an in-person event, such as a park playdate for families, an informal soccer game or a potluck block party.
2. ATTEND A PLACE OF WORSHIP
If you have a religious affiliation, joining a local place of worship is great way to meet people and get involved in your community. Whether you are looking to join a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, there are a variety of online resources available to help you find a match in your area:
● ChurchFinder (Christian Churches)
● MavenSearch (Jewish Synagogues)
● Salatomatic (Islamic Mosques)
● All Hindu Temples (Hindu Temples)
● Buddhanet (Buddhist Temples)
To make the most of your affiliation, look for opportunities to meet in smaller group settings. It’s a great way to form interpersonal relationships with people who share your beliefs and values.
3. FIND AN INTEREST GROUP
Whatever your favorite hobby or pastime, you’re guaranteed to meet people who share your interests when you join an interest group!
The website Meetup.com has over 32 million members in 288,000 groups in 182 countries. You can search for a group in your area that appeals to you … from book clubs to running groups to professional networking, they have it all.
4. LEND A HAND
Volunteering your time and talents is another good way to get engaged in your community and meet those who share a similar mission. Find one with a cause you’re passionate about by visiting a website like VolunteerMatch.
You can search by cause, location and keywords. Another option is to search for volunteer positions that require specialized skills. There could be an organization that needs someone just like you.
Lotsa Helping Hands is another site focused on connecting volunteers with those in need - primarily the ill or elderly. Members can request help or search for opportunities to assist others by delivering a meal, providing a ride to an appointment, or simply stopping by for a visit.
5. TAKE A CLASS
Taking a class is a wonderful way to develop a skill while meeting people who share your interests and passion for learning. Whether you want to brush up on your Spanish, finish your novel, or learn how to tango, most community colleges offer inexpensive, non-credit classes on a variety of topics.
And if you are pursuing a degree, forego taking your courses online. Opt for the traditional route instead. There’s no substitute for being part of a live community of your peers.
To search for a community college in your area, visit the American Association of Community Colleges or SchoolsInCanada.com.
6. ATTEND AN EVENT
Attending a live event is another way to engage with members of your community. From festivals to fundraisers to retreats, Eventbrite is a great place to search for events in your area.
Be strategic about the type of event you choose to attend. For example, it might be hard to meet people at a large gathering like a festival. A retreat or a networking event may offer more opportunities for one-on-one interaction.
7. SHARE YOUR STUFF
There’s been a rise in “sharing communities,” which facilitate the free exchange of goods among neighbors to reduce consumption and keep usable items out of landfills. Nonprofit groups like The Freecycle Network are made up of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. Members can post “offers” of free items or “wanted” items they need.
The company Peerby has a similar goal of reducing consumption by encouraging neighbors to lend and borrow items they don’t often use, like a ladder or a cake pan. Peerby enables you to request items to borrow from your neighbors and encourages you to register items you are willing to lend.
The Little Free Library is another innovative way neighbors are participating in a sharing community. Stewards build or purchase a box to house the library and place it in their front yard or public outdoor space. Visitors are encouraged to take a book they’d like to read, and in exchange leave a book for someone else to enjoy.
8. SUPPORT A COMMUNITY GARDEN
Community gardens have become increasingly popular in both urban and rural areas across North America. Not only do they beautify a neighborhood, they also foster community, encourage self-reliance, reduce family food budgets, conserve resources, and provide opportunities for recreation and exercise.
The American Community Gardening Association website enables you to search for existing community gardens in your area. If there isn’t one nearby, you might considering starting one. The site provides helpful tips and resources for organizing a garden in your neighborhood.
In North Carolina, another great place to go for info and resources is the North Carolina Community Garden Partner. http://www.nccgp.org/garden_directory
9. CARPOOL WITH A COWORKER
In the spirit of joining a “sharing community,” carpooling offers many similar benefits. It presents an opportunity to form a bond with coworkers and/or neighbors during your daily commute. Additionally, you can save money on gas, reduce wear-and-tear on your vehicle, lower carbon emissions, and in many cities reduce your commute time by taking advantage of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) travel lanes.
A new wave of carpooling websites and apps aim to revolutionize the way we commute by making it easier and more convenient to carpool. While many of these are still in their infancy stages, they are expanding into new markets and improving functionality at a rapid pace. Kangaride Local, Scoop and Waze Carpool are just a few examples, and more are popping up every day. Check to see if any of these are available in your local area.
10. PARTICIPATE IN WORLD NEIGHBORS DAY
The organizers behind World Neighbors Day promote it as “an invitation to share a moment with your neighbors, to get to know each other better and develop a real sense of community.”
In the United States it’s held on the third Sunday in September and in Canada it’s on the second Saturday in June. Participants are encouraged to organize gatherings with their neighbors to build relationships that “form the fabric of our communities.”
You can participate by attending or organizing an event in your neighborhood. Whatever you do, be sure to make your gathering inclusive and welcoming to all.
BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR
As with anything in life, you will get out what you put in. It can take time to build lasting and meaningful friendships with your neighbors, but the effort you make is likely to pay off tenfold.
The tried-and-true way to make friends, expand your circle, grow your support system and get engaged in your community? Be a good neighbor yourself.
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1. Lengacher, L. (2015) Mobile Technology: Its Effect on Face-to-Face Communication and Interpersonal Interaction. Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences –
2. Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster –
3. Bergland, C. (2015 October 5) Face-to-Face Social Contact Reduces Risk of Depression. Psychology Today