The relationships between neighbors are important threads in the fabric of a community, and I’ve dedicated my life to nurturing those relationships. I live with my family in a one-and-a-half-story stucco bungalow on the Northside in urban Minneapolis. We have spent the last 18 years living, exploring, and investing in the structure of this community. I think there is an art and a skill to neighboring, and all of us can cultivate it with a little intention.
But before we talk about how to be a good neighbor we ought to acknowledge how neighborhoods are set up and why they exist. Being a good neighbor is important, but not all neighborhoods are created equally.
I live in a deeply diverse inner-city neighborhood. It is predominately Black, immigrant, Hispanic, and Asian, with a large percentage of renters. The neighborhood is transitional and transactional. Minneapolis has significant income and home ownership gaps, and according to multiple surveys (looking at various data points including employment, poverty, incarceration, and education) Minnesota is a tough place to live if you are Black. Redlining districts once existed here, and its repercussions continue. Real estate developers used racial covenants to prevent people of color from buying property, and when they finally could buy property, widespread White flight to the suburbs soon followed. Intentionally created slums and ghettos for Jewish and Black communities and racist lending practices for mortgages both contributed to making Minneapolis as racially disparate as it is today.
All of these pieces together systematically built the rural, urban, and suburban landscape we call America. (This is to say nothing of the way indigenous peoples were displaced at the outset. But that is a discussion for another day.)
So, when we look at neighboring, we must first recognize that the building of segregated neighborhoods is real and part of the landscape of the stories we tell. It is in the fabric of our interactions. There are power dynamics at play here that contribute to the interactions we have or don’t have—the communities that are built and the issues those communities face. One of the first leaders in community building was the Black Panther Party. Many of the programs that schools, churches, government, and neighborhoods use today were taken and modeled after the Black Panther Party.
Acknowledging this history and trauma is important to the conversation because common memory is a critical piece in having a shared history. We must share a collective agreement of who we are and where we come from. It is how relationships and trust are built.
Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, "Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created."
Building trusting relationships with neighbors of varying cultures is deeply important to me. When a crisis hits, your neighbors are your first responders. What groundwork has been laid to ensure that we are keeping each other safe and looking out for one another?
The art of neighboring allows for:
an opportunity to expand knowledge and interest
the ability to re-center humanity
At the neighborhood level is where we forge the connections and build the bridges toward the healthy communities we all need. Relationships are the first step on that journey. Only after we form healthy neighborhood relationships can we move outward to foster safe, vibrant, and equitable communities, cities, and beyond.