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People who are exploring a new place to live often focus on tangible, measurable considerations: The size of their desired home and the cost of their rent or mortgage; the school choices for their children; or the availability of particular amenities like Metro access.
That makes sense, of course, since these factors are often non-negotiable items that affect our bottom line. A far less tangible factor that’s just as important for wellbeing and happiness is the community we become part of: The people we see every day or even a few times a month, the shops and restaurants we regularly frequent, and the essential workers who keep our neighborhoods safe and running smoothly.
Neighborhood communities are among the most important ways that people find lasting personal connections. That’s especially the case in big cities, where many people come together from different places, sometimes having left family or friends thousands of miles away.
Why community is important
Research shows that Americans prefer living in places with a strong sense of community, and that tight communities actually boost one’s mental health and improve resilience to difficult life events, such as illness or job loss. Remember the Italians who sang together from their balconies during the COVID-19 lockdown? Especially in today’s harried and digitalized world, having a place where personal interactions are built-in and easily accessible is crucial.
The benefits of a local community are amplified in walkable neighborhoods. If you go out to pick up a coffee, you might cross paths with a neighbor who will tell you about an upcoming street festival or let you know that another neighbor is feeling ill and needs help. Even if you don’t run into a neighbor you know by name, living in a walkable neighborhood means you might see a “familiar stranger”—for example, someone who walks their dog at the same time every day or you often see walking to the Metro—and those little encounters add up in a big way to create a well-rounded, healthier social life.
Walkable neighborhoods are also more likely to have shared resources such as parks or libraries nearby, and a recent study found that Americans who live close to such amenities are happier with their neighborhood, more trusting and less lonely.
But how do you know which community is right for you? And how do you contribute to a community one you’ve joined?
How to create community
A good first step is just being aware of the importance of community. Just as you would consider cost, square footage and commute time, you should seriously think about the type of neighborhood you want to build a life in. What amenities are there nearby? For example, if you live an active lifestyle and like to spend a lot of time outdoors—or if you have a dog—you’re more likely to find people with similar interests in neighborhoods that are close to parks or bike trails. If you are a young professional with small children, you’ll likely meet other families at neighborhood playgrounds.
Before you commit to a new neighborhood, make sure to check out the area a few times, preferably on different days or at different times, to see whether the local vibe feels right to you. Some people might prefer a bustling community, with full playgrounds and frequent pizza-and-wine get-togethers, while others might want a quieter area, where runners get out early in the morning and the local gardening club meets once a month. While you might not get the full scoop on the neighborhood character just from walking around, don’t be shy about asking residents who might be out if they enjoy the area.
And once you’ve bought into a neighborhood, it’s not that hard to contribute to the community as long as you put in a bit of effort. When a new neighbor moves in, stop by to introduce yourself and to share your contact information. Communicate with your neighbors regularly about things that might affect them—such as before you start a noisy renovation, warn anyone within earshot. And maybe after you’ve been living in the area for a few years and you feel truly part of the community, you can start giving back in different ways. Volunteer to organize community events, such as block parties, or even help to manage the neighborhood listserv or morning runners groups.
Nurturing a sense of community is all a matter of prioritizing your relationship with the place you’re in. Which is easy once you realize all the benefits of a strong neighborhood community.
Watch this video to hear what EYA homeowners love about their neighborhood.