There is a fascinating movement called “Social Streets” in Italy. A father of one was tired of seeing his son play alone in their neighbourhood. Although his city has a high density of residents, they did not know each other and their streets were not being used as places of gathering and connection. So he decided to do something simple. He created a basic Facebook group to connect with just the people on his street. The goal was not to make more virtual friends on social media, but to connect real people in real time in his own neighbourhood. He put out some posters and a few people signed up. It was the start of something special.
The idea of “Social Streets” has taken off. Today there are more than 350 groups in Italy where neighbours are re-connecting in their place. The goal of these groups is not big size, but close proximity, and a sense of interconnection. There is no central leader, no fees, and no big master plan. Yet through the initiative some amazing things have happened.
One Social Street in Italy shares photos of their terraces not normally visible from the street and welcomed others to join in. Another group began sharing goods with each other. Another social street found a love for live music. Another has been a hub for new and intentional friendships.
One of the discoveries that these social street groups have discovered is that in the midst of giving away things, car pooling to concerts, or planning meals together is that they have discovered something that they did not expect: mutual trust. These neighbours are more likely to share and receive advice and help from a neighbour because they are no longer strangers, but people that they know will be on their side. The sharing culture that is emerging in the social streets movement in Italy is revealing a new economy that did not exist before. Between neighbours is new kind of exchange that connects people together in a way that money transactions alone simply cannot.
Today researchers are exploring how the Social Street movement has been changing the culture of Italy. They have found that after a few years communities have changed. By focusing on building a hyper-local space for people to connect in real ways social isolation is giving way to real neighbourhood life; disconnection can be reversed by small intentional efforts.
What would it look like to start a Social Street where you live? Could you start a facebook group that is specific to your street? Are there other ways to create a special identity for your neighbourhood? What would happen if people in your community met together, shared what they had, knew each other’s names and built a new sense of mutual trust and appreciation?
Changing our city for the better is not the work of experts. It is in our hands to create a sharing culture that draws us into our neighbourhoods. When we choose to love our streets, the story of Chestermere comes to life. You are part of that emerging story, what will happen next?