Aside from a perfunctory “Hi” in the elevator or hallway, how many of us spend any real time with the folks who share our walls and shared spaces? You know, those folks known as neighbors.
In fast-paced, busy, and anonymous New York City it’s not uncommon to live in a building for years and never know who else is living around and among you. I’m not talking about simply names and faces, but who is living behind the doors on your floor and in your building.
In the current world of lighting speed technology and ubiquitous social media connecting us to friends all around the globe, our proverbial backyard is very often neglected. A 2015 report, Less in Common, issued by City Observatory, a think tank using data-driven analysis of cities and the policies that shape them, noted less than 20 percent of Americans report spending time with their neighbors and almost a third of folks report no interaction at all with people who live nearby.
Okay, so maybe New York isn’t quite like other U.S. cities, and New Yorkers are a different breed of neighbor. But still, we’ve got to admit that intentionally ignoring, simply not noticing, or otherwise not caring about our neighbors is a bit weird and cold-hearted.
In a society where many families are geographically stratified, the population is getting older, many people are lonely, and most folks don’t know how to ask for help, your neighbor might just save your life. There’s the story of the famous actor who saved an elderly neighbor who fell off a ladder, the account of the Long Island man who pulled his neighbor from a house fire, and the tale of how a group of neighbors in Bay Ridge saved 28 cats.
Talking to people might seem scary. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger because we are worried about being asked for money, getting hit on, or some other unwanted outcome.
But, come on, if you’re in your elevator and you think your neighbor has a cute dog tell him so. Similarly, if your neighbor is moving something big and bulky, hold the door for her, or even, gasp, offer to help. Maybe you will find out her name, and you can agree to get coffee, platonically of course.
Following are some good some reasons to get to know your neighbors:
They’ve Got Your Back
Helpful neighbors will look out for you; they can be your extra pair of eyes and ears helping to keep you and your family safe.
Keeping the Peace
Good neighbors respect privacy, aren’t too rowdy and don’t do things to make your life unbearable. As a good neighbor yourself, you can keep the noise level down at night, make sure your cigarette smoke doesn’t invade your neighbor’s apartment, and be kind and thoughtful, which invites your neighbors to reciprocate.
While You’re Away
When going on vacation or a business trip, a neighbor can provide invaluable assistance such as collecting your mail, watering your plants, feeding your cat, and keeping an eye on your place.
It’s a Small World After All
Finding out about different cultures and getting to know folks from different backgrounds is one of the perks of living in NYC. Where else can you find a population of people speaking almost 200 different languages?
Borrowing a Cup of Sugar
Sure, it’s a cliché, but it is convenient to have someone close by who can help out with that single missing ingredient you need to complete the meal for your dinner party or lend a ladder to change your light bulb.
A Surrogate Family
Since you might be far away from your family, your neighbors are close enough to help in a crisis.
What happens when New Yorkers meet their neighbors? New York Magazine took the time to find out – and it’s amazing!
You might not know who is living next door to you, but perhaps you should attempt to find out.
And, if you need an app to get started, there’s that, too. Nextdoor.com helps you find a private neighborhood social network in your very own backyard!