Jackson Street in Twin Falls, Idaho, was not the model for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. A couple of families were bringing up wild children who seemed headed for a life of petty crime. Some of the adults were knocking each other around. On the other hand, a couple next door let us eat our fill of the best raspberries on the planet. Across the street was a woman who baked special cookies for us on Halloween. Best of all, at the end of the street, behind a ramshackle house, lived Paul Friend, a single man so kind and loving even the memory of him keeps me warm.
I’ve lived in 34 different neighbourhoods. None of the other 33 has been quite as colourful as Jackson Street. Some were friendlier than others. Every street had its characters. One thing held true. Good neighbours outnumbered the miscreants every time.
Most of the streets were rows of single-family residences, though I’ve also lived in apartments and, for nine years, on a small ranch. Now I live in a high rise and walk nearly everywhere. I feel at home in this dense neighbourhood, with its collection of townhouses and high rises and nearby friends.
Good design encourages neighbourliness. Unfortunately, most cities, including my own, are a hodgepodge of bad design with rare flashes of brilliance. People enliven them with guerrilla gardening, seed bombing, urban art, small touches of beauty and some measure of human warmth.
We can’t redesign all our spaces overnight. While we work to improve them, one park or bike path or community garden at a time, we can be good neighbours. Greet each other as we walk, host pot lucks, take in each other’s mail, help out with tasks that need extra hands—all the small and large deeds that give us a sense of belonging.
Around the world, celebrations honour the value of neighbourliness and the sense of community that comes with knowing the people who live around us. Here are a few that happen annually. They—and my neighbours—give me hope.