By Jill Carstens
When I moved into my neighborhood in North Denver, my child was four. I was single and worked a full time job. I could barely keep my head above water.
In and out of those early days, my elderly alley neighbors, in their 90s, would bring donuts over every Sunday and often came out with a ladder to help me change the light bulb on my security light.
A few years later, noting my struggle in keeping up my yard, my neighbors across the street spent a whole day helping me plant tree seedlings that have now grown to transform the “curb appeal” of my house. I am grateful every time I look at these now flourishing trees.
As my child grew and I was able to be more independent, I have sought to, in turn, serve my neighbors old and new; paying it forward, as they modeled so easily to me. But our neighborhood has been changing a lot. It has been sad to witness historic homes get flattened by bulldozers and watch the ominously large new homes take their place.
Eventually we are losing the character, familiarity, and diversity of our neighborhood. I recently witnessed a new business owner in North Denver, who by the way does not live in our area, scream and yell at a Latino man who was selling popcorn as a fundraiser for his church.
North Denver, not too long ago, was primarily a Latino neighborhood. I wonder how being screamed at by this white man felt to this person who was just trying to help out his church in an area that was once his home? My concerns have also been in small details. Cars on our main thoroughfare go faster, sometimes not stopping at stop signs, rendering me a nervous dog-walker.
It seems, also, that less and less folks are picking up after their dogs, which makes me feel like people just don’t care. When passing people on the sidewalk, so many are looking down at phones instead of perhaps boasting a friendly face. What will become of us if we do not become better neighbors?
There are many benefits to neighborliness. Communities that know each other are safer, happier, and healthier.
There are even recent studies, many administered by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, self-described fact tank, which show that restorative community activities as simple as a trash clean-up day can create foundations for broad, positive social changes, sometimes even provoking better government policies.
Perhaps if we begin trying a little harder to be good neighbors in front of our children, teaching them about community, we can make substantial changes in our world. Here are some simple ideas for you to consider: Walk your neighborhood, put your phone down and get to know your surroundings; say hi to folks. When sitting on a porch, give a friendly hello to passersby (sometimes you have to remember to sit on your porch).
If you are walking your doggie, please pick up their poop. Use your turn signal, stop completely at stop signs, and drive the speed limit. Try not to park directly in front of your neighbor’s path to their door so that they can easily get out and unload groceries. If you have moved into a new-build house in our old neighborhood, be mindful that your house perhaps replaced a couple of historic structures, radically changing the look and landscape of a block.
This is not your fault, but being the first to reach out can help diffuse those feelings. Introduce yourself, make concerted efforts to meet your neighbors. Remind them of street sweeping days or bring them over a plate of cookies.
These simple actions can ease that tension of the changes. If you have adolescent or teenage kids, encourage them to shovel neighbors’ walks on snowy days. Remember when the neighbor kid mowed lawns or babysat? Please and thank you go a long way. Don’t let your dog bark early in the morning or late at night. Definitely do not leave a barking dog out all day–so many of us work from home. Try not to block the alley, or if you must, give your neighbors a heads up.
Volunteer for community events or attend neighborhood association meetings so you know what is going on in your area. Start your own community event, like an alley potluck or happy hour. Patronize our local, independent businesses before they are replaced by Starbucks or Olive Garden. And let me pose this question: what if you need something?
A favor, such as help from someone to grab your mail or a package, or you suddenly need to jump the battery on your car?
If you have developed relationships with your neighbors, none of this will be an issue! North Denver is a great part of town, let’s make it sustainably great by modeling neighborliness and encouraging community to our kids.
In return, we might change the world for the better, one good deed at a time.
Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing for this publication! Email her with comments or story ideas at email@example.com.