We live in proximity to hundreds of people if we live in any urban or suburban community. Think about those who make supper, do homework, and sleep close to you every night. Behind a shared apartment wall or even a couple dozen feet away in another home are complete strangers who sleep, cook, and relax nearby by every night. We live close to so many different people but that does not mean that we know those people at all.
Apartment architects and developers are receiving more demand for buildings that attempt to create a better sense of community between neighbours. One apartment comes with a common living room, while another has a community kitchen and even apartment staff, a resident ‘connector’ who tries to create events and solve conflicts. We want community, but will these innovations help? Do we really even want to know everyone who lives close by?
While I am a full advocate of good parks, common spaces, and shared amenities, I know that the best neighbourhoods cannot be engineered from the outside. Amazing neighbourhoods are built on quality relationships. Margaret Wheatley wrote that these quality relationships are worthy of our full attention. She says, “Nothing else works, no new tools or technical applications, no redesigned organizational chart. The solution is each other. If we can rely on each other, we can cope with almost anything.”
Quality relationships move us from closed, to close. They make it through challenges by ensuring that passing slights or mis communications do not derail a neighbourhood friendship. They make it through disagreements and election cycles. Quality relationships also make it through loss and sorrow, neighbours with quality relationships find each other and support each other, they know a batch of cookies can change the story. Quality relationships make it through the good times, too. When a neighbour finds success, they find that others celebrate with them and cheer them on. Quality relationships make it over the long run, they refuse to get bored and find hope along the way. Quality relationships make it.
Here is the interesting twist for those who invest in quality relationships: their patient work to nurture kindness, attentiveness, presence, and peace is often reciprocated and finds life in surprising places. When we give meaning to our neighbourhood we discover meaning for ourselves. Quality begets quality. Very few people I know who deeply love their neighbourhoods and show concern for those who live around them end up bitter towards their communities. It’s hard to be closed to those you draw close.