It used to be that neighbors had to rely on one another for aid, safety, support, and resource sharing. From barn-raising to borrowing cups of sugar to watching each others' kids and helping out in a health crisis, we naturally and necessarily developed strong, reciprocal relationships with the people who lived closest to us. Whether in a small town or a large city, we relied on our neighbors.
Though tight-knit, supportive neighborhoods still exist in the US, over the past few decades, changes in the lives of city dwellers have led to an erosion of this most essential kind of community building. In 2015, one-third of Americans reported having no interaction at all with their neighbors, and only 20% reported frequent interactions with their neighbors.
What We Gain When We Know and Help Our Neighbors
Americans have become less trusting and swaths of the population are more prone to self-segregation by income, race, and media consumption. Our economic divide is widening and our politics have become alarmingly polarized. Practicing civility, courtesy, and neighborliness with the people we live closest to benefits our neighborhoods, our communities, and our country as a whole.
When we know our neighbors we strengthen a crucial social network—the people who are closest to us are often the best positioned to know when something is wrong, or to help in an immediate crisis, no matter how big or small.
Helping other people is good for us. Study after study shows that we benefit from helping other people, whether it's formal volunteering or running errands for a person in need.
Knowledge exchange is an organic part of traditional neighborliness and one that is mutually beneficial to all parties. But your neighbors need to know what your skills are—and vice versa—before you can exchange them. When people stick to themselves, that can be hard to find out.
Strengthening your most immediate community offers huge benefits. The Urban Helper is a new way to seek and offer help and skills to the people on your block, your street, and your neighborhood.