Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to meet your neighbours without looking like a dork

The concept of community and connection really does change depending on where you live. Since moving out, I have lived in apartments; either little square boxes in big huge buildings or basement apartments. It's pretty darn difficult to forge a community in an apartment building, especially compared to just how easy it can be in a rural setting. (I haven't ever lived in the suburbs, so no experience to compare there).

Something that often doesn't get discussed is the importance that community should play in helping us live a sustainable, Planet friendly life. During the mostly rant-forward talk last week on permaculture, Alex the Farmer had one truly insightful observation: cooperation and community.

Of course, as we all know, consumerism and our incessant need for stuff isn't sustainable and is one of THE reasons we have this climate change, planet destruction issue. Why do we need to own everything? Have you considered Sharing as the new "green"?

If we had communities of people sharing resources, tools and expertise there'd be less waste, more communication and connection.
Acro Yoga at our old apartment a few years ago! (that is not me flying, I'm clapping in the background lol)
This is especially important if you've already started to consider how to lower your environmental footprint, because a lot of "next steps" involve DIY, homemade, reusing and ultimately fixing. Things like canning and bread making go better if they come with certain kitchen gadgets. Except, who has the money for a food processor? Or room for a complete canning set up? And who has a root cellar to store all this crap?

Either we don't have any of the tools, or we each own one of everything ourselves. Which is a little silly, why do we each need to own something we use infrequently?

A more efficient (and money saving) idea would be to cooperate with other people and share our tools and resources. Some fabulous ideas on how to share resources and skills:

A tool/gadget sharing system
You want to make some bread but don't have a stand mixer? I want to make some sort of pesto but don't have a food processor? How about a trade! Trading and sharing could go as far as sewing machines, drills, building tools, gardening tools... for gadgets that we don't use every day, sharing can be an excellent money and space saving solution.

A product/tool bartering system
This is something that our group of friends does already. Our friends have a food processor and make basil pesto (frozen in individual containers) every year. This week Andrew made four loaves of bread with the stand mixer and we traded pesto for bread. It doesn't always work on an immediate 1:1 level. If you're pretty confident in the eventual exchange, you could always drop off your goods when they're done. We also lend out our electric drill to friends and have used their caulking doodad for the tub.

Sharing a community space
This could be a garden or a root cellar. This would involve having a group of people meet, agree upon a shared space and splitting the cost and upkeep together. I'd say it involves a bit more organization and commitment as well as a certain level of relationship with members. It would also be a bit more difficult to organize and get together in a city, unless you have friends who have space for a garden or root cellar.

A resource/tool library
I really like this idea, although I do think it would be the most time and organizational intensive activity. Splitting the responsibility of care between community members can get a little hairy, as most people will expect one person to take on the lead role here. Some ideas to make it work: either having the tools in one spot (like a garage or shed with a special code to access) and sign out sheet, or having an online list of tools and contact info for the group.

All these ideas are fab, but you need to be able to actually connect with your neighbours in order for cooperation and sharing to be even a possibility. How many of us actually know our neighbours? Alex's suggestions were a little bit much, as he recommended that a person hand out flyers door to door for a "block" resource library meeting. I'm not sure about you, but I know if I went door to door even in my own building handing out little paper invitations, my neighbours would think I was a bonkers hippie.

If this idea of community, connection and sharing interests you but you have absolutely no compunction to be handing out recycled paper invitations to complete strangers, here are some alternatives:

How to build a community in a city:

1. Introduce yourself to your neighbours. Seriously. I know it feels weird and we all live separately in our small little square boxes next to each other, but it's time to make life interconnected. While living in Montreal my roommate (colloc!) at the time strongly warned me against introducing myself to my neighbours ("They could be crazy! Montreal is filled with crazy people, do NOT introduce yourself!). So for two years I didn't even meet my neighbours. If I were dying of something I wouldn't even be able to knock on their doors for help.

Some ideas for introducing yourself to your neighbours without appearing like a complete weirdo:
- If you just moved in, bake something and bring a few of them over. I know it's kinda cliche'd, but people like cookies and often respond positively to baked goods. Also, just moving in is a perfectly acceptable reason to introduce yourself. It also is a great way to assure that if your neighbour's have complaints (noise, or people over) they'll come to you before complaining to the landlord. (yes I am smart).
- Even if you've lived there for a million years, bake stuff and bring it over. Yes, still will be slightly weird, but like I said people really like cookies.
- don't bake? Buy some local baked goods and bring them over. Fake it.
- At a holiday, get cards and maybe a few chocolates for your neighbours. Ya know, nothing too weird, but enough to give you a reason to knock and say "hi"!

2. Recognize that community and relationships take time, especially with a group of people you don't intend to befriend or make an immediate full fledged friendship (unless you plan on stalking them, which would be creepy).

3. When you do see your neighbours, say "hi", ask them how it's going... ya know- CONNECT.

4. Join a local community book club or hobby activity. Mostly likely these people will live near you and share some of your interests, making it easier to connect with them and build in ideas.

5. Once you have a baseline, start inviting your neighbours to events. BBQ-ing (or "Grilling" as I was informed while staying in Florida years ago)? Invite a few neighbours over. Going to Yoga in the Park and you know your neighbour practices? Invite them along. Baked a whole crap ton of cookies? Bring over the extras. It starts the idea of sharing and will help you determine who might be more open to the idea.

6. Planting a garden on your balcony? Let your neighbours know. With the person below you, it can be the excuse that you wanted to let them know in case you ever water onto their balcony by accident. You could casually throw in a "if you ever need any extra _insert copiously grown vegetable_ just let me know!".

We're attempting to guerrilla garden (once it stops raining) on our roof, which equals climbing up the emergency fire escape. Today I asked our upstairs neighbour if he minded, and made sure to mention that if he ever wanted some lettuce to just help himself.

7. If you feel fairly secure in your neighbour connections, but haven't considered how to broach the idea of a resource sharing concept: why not knock on doors (or email) and ask if you could all meet up and chat about it.

8. This could easily work in a yoga studio. Bartering is already often used with regards to cleaning, but what about other means of yoga class-skill exchange. It's also the perfect space to organize and create community meetings and meetups to chat about sustainable practices, resource sharing and forge new yoga-munity connections among the students.

Living isolating, parallel lives has been eroding our feeling of responsibility, social connection and support networks that we need in order to feel empowered.

Cooperation and community=Yoga.

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Great article! I just wish we lived in the same neighborhood!!! It's so hard to find like-minded people living nearby (at least where I live in swfl) that would actually trade, share or even help out with coop gardens. For now, I'm doing what I can and I will be relocating soon with this very agenda as a top priority!

  2. it's simple boys and girls - you go over, you say hello. you buck up, you go over, you introduce yourself. no matter how long it's been since you moved in. and you don't have to be like-minded, to start out. you'd be surprised how like-minded we all are deep down - some folks you just can't walk up and say 'can i borrow your cordless drill' but if you get to know them, later, you can. everyone goes at their own pace and not every neighbor can be your bff, but here's my thing: i know if i get locked out of my house, i can use the bathroom of anyone on my street :-).

    btw - my neighbor started a facebook community page and it's done amazing things to bring folks together, share news, rally up support for local issues, etc.

  3. I love this, it's so awesome! I have neighbors at my parents house and at my boyfriends house who I would like to get more comfortable around and also get closer to. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Love this and couldn't agree more. I love EcoGrrl's suggestion about starting a community FB page, too! Awesome.

    I don't know everyone on my street - in fact, just two out of nine. But I try really hard to keep being friendly with those two and sharing eggs and veggies with them.

  5. LOVE this seems to be a blog theme lately. One of my favorite things about living where we do is that we can borrow great tools from my aunt and uncle, share seeds & muscle for gardening, my cousin and i can loan books, my other cousin and i can be running partners, and the neighbor & his family down the street can come over to grill or to assist with gardening insight all within walking distance of our home. it's pretty darn fabulous! still need to meet two more neighbors in our cul-de-sac but we're hoping to throw a neighborhood bbq this summer and see what happens ;)


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