Whether you live in an apartment, dorm or cul-de-sac, you’ve probably got a few neighbors. We all do, which is why it was surprising to learn from a recent Harris Interactive Survey that 59% American’s don’t even know their neighbors’ first name.
This lack of neighborly love is a trend from coast-to-coast, but luckily some Americans take it upon themselves to break down the barriers that keep us apart. These people are neighborhood organizers, and they are champions of neighborhood communication. To better inform our Neighbors product, I set out to learn more about neighborhood organizers and the tactics they use to get people talking. In this four part series I’ll reveal the highlights of what I’ve learned and the lessons they can teach us all about being better neighbors.
Who are neighborhood organizers?
Depending on where you live, you might or might not have encountered a neighborhood organizer in your lifetime. Luckily for me, I used to live on a block in Ballard (a neighborhood in Seattle) where we claimed to be the “Best Block in Ballard”, mainly due to the heroic efforts of our Block Watch Captain. She brought a very unlikely crew of people together for all types of events: National Night Out, progressive dinners and emergency preparedness meetings. Over time, our relationships morphed from neighbors to friends. Even though I moved 3 years ago, I still have long lasting friendships from my experience living on the “Best block in Ballard.” I have our Block Watch Captain, aka “Power Neighborhood Organizer” to thank for these friendships.
Throughout the greater Seattle area there is a plethora of Power Neighborhood Organizers (PNOs), and it was my great fortune to meet and observe them in order to learn more about neighborhood communication.
What did we learn?
All told, there are many common threads that tie the passions and behaviors of Power Neighborhood Organizers together. But the main threads that really stood out were that PNO’s care deeply about several key areas:
- Building community
- Control over their hyper-local environment
- Being the go-to person in their neighborhood
In the end, PNOs are just like you and me. They work, they stay home; they are married, they are single, etc. But in addition to their day-to-day lives, they create and assume this role of being a neighborhood organizer, because of these key passions that drive them to get involved.
But typically, there always seemed to be an event that spurred PNOs to step up and take action. These events fell into one of these categories:
- New to the neighborhood
- Birth of a child
- Criminal activity on their block or neighborhood
- Natural disaster, such as the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake or even the 2011 Japan Earthquake
These events push the PNOs to reach out to their neighbors, and ignite communication in a multitude of ways, such as:
- A neighborhood block party to build a community within their block
- A formal block watch program to increase safety in their neighborhood
- An emergency preparedness meetings for their block to mobilize and plan together for a potential natural disaster
So PNOs have big ideas to get their blocks socializing and gathering, but how do they get in touch with their neighbors in order to notify them about an upcoming event?
Up next…Gathering neighbors contact information & the challenges PNOs face.