There’s a lot about this which is awesome—I mean, I write as someone who lives in a city and has moved four times in the six years since I finished college—but it can also lead to treating our homes as hotels, and our neighbors as fellow guests: We might smile and nod while parking, but that’s about it.
Being urbanized means we have lots of neighbors, but being transitory makes it feel like a waste of time to get to know them.
Yet neighborliness is a good thing for its own sake. Yes, it might be inconvenient or feel unnatural at first, but this is hospitality at its most basic, and one of the few ways in our increasingly segmented world to know people who aren’t extremely like ourselves. We’re not kids who have to worry about stranger danger anymore—and honestly, America is safer than it has been in decades. Statistically, our neighbors are probably very nice people.
As Christians, we often like to think about “loving our neighbor” in light of the story of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus made all humanity our neighbors. But sometimes I think we forget that includes our literal neighbors, too—people who are uniquely positioned to casually share our lives.
So as the weather (finally!) warms up, here are 9 practical ways to be neighborly this year:
1. Share Food.
My mom would always bring cookies over to new neighbors when they (or we) moved in, because food was and is the greatest icebreaker. If you’re not into baking, even a rotisserie chicken can be great to have until the fridge is stocked. Or if you know you’ll be in the same place all summer, you could split a CSA share with people on your floor.
2. Share Expertise.
Take the wise advice of Ben Franklin (and also modern psychological studies): If you do someone a favor, you’ll start to like them. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true: As Franklin put it, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” So if you can help your neighbor set up their Wi-Fi or point them to the best local restaurant, your brain will actually make you want to hang out with them more.
3. Share Contact Info.
When you meet a neighbor, give them your phone number—and preferably write it down for them, legibly, with your name, to avoid those awkward “I see you all the time and it’s too late to admit I don’t remember your name” situations.
4. Share Keys.
I was re-watching Seinfeld recently, and I got to the episode where everyone decides to switch up who has their spare apartment key. And that’s when I remembered: It’s totally normal to share house keys with neighbors (even Kramer!). I don’t know when I forgot this, but we always had copies of our neighbors’ keys when I was a kid, and they had copies of ours. It’s a good safety measure, especially if you have pets who could be trapped inside in an emergency situation.
5. Write a Note.
People like nice notes. People will always like nice notes. And checking in with your neighbors with a simple note is an easy way to remind them that your street or building can be a lot more than a faceless place to kill time before heading back to the office.
6. Resolve Disputes Graciously and in Person.
Nice notes are good; angry notes are not—especially if you’re dealing with a neighbor you don’t know well. If you have a neighbor with a loud dog, a trashy yard or zero respect for your space, talk to them about it in person. Leaving a snarky or anonymous note may be tempting, but it’s almost guaranteed to nix future neighborliness.
And above all, don’t resort to contacting your property manager or city government unless you’ve tried everything else within reason (or unless you have real concerns about the safety of your family or other neighbors).
7. Don’t Hide in the Backyard or Inside.
Viewing our homes as enclosed, personal sanctuaries has its advantages, but always retreating to private spaces makes it hard to interact with neighbors. If you spend time in your front yard, porch, or even a common patio or pool area in your apartment complex, getting to know neighbors will come more naturally.
On a related note, if you have a front yard or entryway which you can modify, make it as physically inviting as you can. This can be as simple as turning on the porch light at night, or it can be a bigger project, like setting up a “Little Free Library.”
8. Have a Block Party or a Shared Yard Sale.
Nothing draws people together like food, drink, and games—except possibly the chance to get rid of their unwanted stuff and pick through yours. My neighbors in high school threw killer block parties, drawing families from probably 30 houses with a cookout, bonfire, and movies projected on a white sheet. Hosting a block party or organizing a multi-family yard sale does not have to be complicated or expensive, and either can be really fun.
9. Be Realistic.
Especially if you live in a really large apartment building, you won’t be able to meet everyone, and your neighbors probably aren’t going to become your best friends. But they could become your best dog sitter or running buddy—and that’s good too.
Bonnie Kristian (@bonniekristian) is the author of the forthcoming book Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community. She is a columnist at Christianity Today and a fellow at Defense Priorities, and her work has appeared at outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, Politico, and Reason.