Creating Connections–Neighbor’s Night Out

“I only talk to my uphill neighbor at the 4th of July parade. I wave to my neighbor across the street and the downhill lot is vacant,” divulged my work colleague. “My wife had a problem with the neighbors when she was growing up so says, ‘don’t talk to them’.”

Hearing this, I was overcome with sadness, “You must be lonely.”

He just looked at me and shrugged. “We are thinking of moving to Seattle though.” I don’t know if moving from an outlying suburb to Seattle will make a difference, but I know I am happy that I know my neighbors!

My Neighborhood

Hugs are always on order when I see Kathleen my next door neighbor, as is borrowing a cup of sugar or picking up mail. Trimming trees and shrubs on the property line are an easy conversation to have. My son sold $20 of coupons to Kathleen to support his track team. This makes a neighborhood!

The neighbors to the south, Emily and Will are new arrivals. They shaved their overgrown front-yard vegetation causing their formerly hidden garage light to swathe our bedroom on hot summer nights in almost full daylight. One request to Will on solutions to our light-filled bedroom and he agreed to turn the light off every night! He’s kept his promise, too. I made sure to thank him, too!

Four years ago, Maggie started the monthly ladies-only neighborhood bookgroup. The only membership criteria is living within walking distance of each others’ houses. We do talk about the book… most of the time, for at least five minutes. Our group includes a doctor, a realtor, several teachers, and an engineer. Some of us are retired while others are entrepreneurs. We are mothers and grandmothers, with ages ranging from 57 to 79. Put twelve curious, chatty women in the room and of course, there are multiple conversations about the neighborhood, new grandchildren, jobs, traffic, and more. Younger woman do come, but often can’t commit. Their lives are still just too busy!

Neighbor’s Night Out

For 18 summers, our street has come together to celebrate Neighbor’s Night Out, a nationwide get to know your neighbor night. Having organized the first event in 1997, I’m overjoyed that I don’t have to be the planner every year! At the start, we left flyers on everyone’s doorstep and now the organizer just sends out an e-mail invitation and purchases burgers, dogs, chips, and fixings with a  $10 per family contribution.

Neighbor's Night Out

Neighbor’s Night Out

Just before 6 p.m. on Neighbor’s Night Out, my kids drag the six orange cones to the street ends, declaring that cars are banned and it’s a people-only evening. Lawn chairs and fold-up tables show up as well as everyone’s favorite summer potluck food. Charles brings his classic key lime pie and Maureen her homegrown tomato caprese salad. When the neighborhood children were young, we had a bicycle parade and water balloon games, but now the teenagers just slink around, grab a bite to eat, waiting for the opportunity to sneak away from the grown-up conversations.  There are new babies on the street, so hopefully soon, children’s playfulness will return to our annual summer gathering.

Adults do their yearly catch up. Traffic congestion is always a huge topic, as Children’s Hospital expands, University Village draws more customers, and Husky home games snarl movement. Housing affordability, taxes, and the upcoming brand-new district-based (rather than at-large-only) city council races are fodder for conversation. Of course, there is always chatter on children and grandkids, too.

Will you have a Neighbor’s Night Out? It’s always the first Tuesday in August! I always look forward to connecting with my neighbors again!

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn is a Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network board member and on the Urban Land Institute–Northwest District Council’s Center for Sustainable Leadership planning team. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world and good food! 

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