Won’t you be my neighbor?

Lansingites. It’s been awhile, no? This Lansing lover has been mad busy this Fall. As we all know from previous posts, I am what some friends refer to as a “nomadic twenty-something”, always looking for my next place in life; and this Fall it has taken me from downtown Lansing to the east side. That’s right, after fourteen months of calling downtown “home”, I decided to make another move. This time, to a beautiful house on the east side with two housemates.

Moving to a new location has led to many revelations for me, but the biggest being the realization that neighborhoods can offer a sense of community that can make the greater Lansing community not only a safer place for us all, but a happier place as well.

Let me go back a bit and refer to a NPR story I heard a few months ago on the Averill Woods Neighborhood Association. This Association was featured on the “What’s Working” segment of the NPR radio show, in which “Michigan Radio has been spotlighting people and organizations that are trying to improve life in Michigan.”

One of my favorite Michigan Radio segements.

As I was driving to work a few months back, coffee in hand and NPR on the radio, a particular “What’s Working” segment came on air and it most definitely caught my attention. (These segments are always a highlight for me since this optimistic gal loves to take a break from the negativity of the current state of national and international affairs in the news, and become uplifted with brief segments of people and/or organizations doing some good!) This particular segment on the Association is described as follows, “In 2004, residents of the Averill Woods neighborhood in Lansing started an association. Their goal was, in part, to promote a positive quality of life, to help neighbors connect with each other, and to improve safety.”

This got me to thinking… I had been living in the same apartment for approximately one year at this point, and had yet to meet more than one pair of neighbors. It had not struck me as weird, however, because this was something I had grown quite accustomed to over the years. For the most part, I feel like we live next to people, sometimes totally amazing people, yet we don’t know who they are. It has become a part of our lifestyle to keep to ourselves and do our own thing, mind our own business if you will, but that leads to a lack of community.

There was one time in my last place of residence, when we had a piercing fire alarm go off late afternoon. This was a false alarm, however, the shrillness of this alarm was enough to make you run out of the building and head to the parking lot. This was twelve months into living there and was the very first time I met many of my neighbors. And it was a shame. It shouldn’t take a fire alarm to get you out of your home and talking with the people you share a hallway, or street with. Knowing your neighbors gives one a sense of accountability. You become a part of something bigger than just you, and feel the need to make the place you live better. Not just for you, but for the people you have connected with.

It was clear that just living next door to people is not what creates a neighborhood, but what was it that does? And in a state of terrible economic times in the city, how can we create neighborhoods?

This is when I turn to the Averill Woods Neighborhood Association for insight.

2009 Averill Woods Neighborhood Association Woods Clean-up

This group of individuals realized that they are not powerless in creating a sense of community within their neighborhood, just because the city is unable to do it for them. They took things into their own hands and devised a method of “environmental design” to bring their neighbors out of the woodwork and into the “neighborhood”, while at the same time increasing the safety of their streets and a sense of pride in their “‘hood”. This was done by creating ownership of their neighborhood by cleaning up the abandoned areas. The group came together to vamp up the playground,¬†clean up the nature trails,¬†and build a community garden. These areas drew people in, from both inside their neighborhood, as well as others in the Lansing area, and that in turn creates a type of “natural surveillence” of their streets. People are out and about, they know one another, hence crime is less likely to happen. Not many people can get away with crime when the vacant spaces are no longer vacant, and people are out on the streets, enjoying the renovated space. And the individuals who are a part of this community now feel a sense of pride for what they are a part of, they want to keep it up, keep the streets safe and continue to build relationships with those they share a “home” with.

This seems like such a simple concept, yet it is something I feel we are lacking in many of the neighborhoods of Lansing. I would love to see our “neighborhoods” of Lansing truly become communities within themselves- have people who happen to live in the same area get to know one another and become true neighbors. And it starts with each of us.

I love tea! And company! Come on by and say hello!

I challenge you to get to know your neighbors this week. Introduce yourself. Strike up a conversation. I bet that once you do, you will feel more comfortable in your community space. And I also bet you will start to realize little things we can all do to make it a better place for us all, whether it be to call the cops if you see someone who is not your neighbor hanging suspiciously around a neighbor’s house (and you will know it is not the owner, because you will have taken the time to learn who it is that is living in your community!) or just say a simple “hello” that could potentially make someone’s day.

So go ahead, Lansing, let’s build up our community one neighborhood at a time! And if you happen to live on the east side, come on over for some tea on my front porch, I’d love the neighborly company!