Our family lived in the same house in Brooklyn for about 40 years. Grandma knew almost all of our neighbors. Mom and Grandma knew the parents — and in some cases, the grandparents — of most of the children on the block that my siblings and I played with.
There was a real sense of community when everyone sat out on the stoop and talked or when the lady next door would come in for cake and coffee with Grandma Jennie. When I got older, I would help our elderly neighbors by shopping for them, shoveling snow off of their steps, or taking out their garbage cans on pickup day.
For many years now, I haven’t sensed that warm feeling of being part of the old neighborhood. Aunt Cathy claims that it started with air conditioners. No one wanted to sit outside in the summer when they could be comfortable inside, so we started to see our neighbors less.
I think that other factors also contributed to our isolation from our neighbors. Moms who used to stay at home now work, children have scheduled play dates, and everyone connects through electronic devices. No need to visit, sit on the stoop and chat, or play with the neighborhood kids.
That is, until COVID-19. After weeks of stay-at-home orders, people are getting tired of being isolated. So, when the weather is nice, people like to take a walk or sit outside and get fresh air.
I am seeing my neighbors more than ever now. I chat with Mary, who lives down the block (her husband Tom once dug my car out of the snow). She even gave me some flowers from her pretty garden. I also see Andy, a young man with whom I share a love of plants. He gave basil and hot pepper plants that he grew from seed and I will give him some of my seedlings, too.
I think that this is a tremendous opportunity to get to know the people who live around us. We can check up on neighbors who may need help, exchange stories and share resources (like plants or a lawn mower), and build new friendships.
A sense of community is good for our well-being and it is good for the Earth, too. Our neighborhood not only feels friendlier and safer, but by cooperating and sharing resources, we can live more sustainably.