Make Your Neighborhood Friendlier

Two things influence how we feel about the areas we call home: the physical features and the people. Here are six ways you can enhance them.

1. Take a walk in your neighborhood and write down what you’d like to see.

Animated quote from Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol (POY 40).

Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol wrote a playbook on community development, their goal being to get urban developers and residents on the same page. They share stories with me about neighborhood revitalization, as well as what we can all learn from their efforts.

What you can do: Joe tells me each of us can get together with a group of friends or neighbors, walk through the place where we live, and imagine what’s missing. Examples might include a restaurant, a small park—all sorts of attractions. From there, we can talk with our groups about what we can do to make these ideas a reality. Kevin’s and Joe’s book, The Neighborhood Playbook, has more.

2. Look after the trees in your area.

Animated quote from Paul Johnson (POY 23).

Paul Johnson works in Texas as a master certified arborist. He tells me about the array of benefits that trees have on cities, neighborhoods, and even families. He suggests that, generally speaking, a location with more managed greenery reflects a higher quality of life and a higher level of care among residents, and that’s worth investing in.

What you can do: Paul proposes three ways to improve tree maintenance where you live:

  1. Contact your community leaders and convince them about the value of trees (preferably with a group of supporters).
  2. Participate on a local tree board or with tree-related nonprofits like Arbor Day.
  3. Educate yourself and others about why trees matter and how to care for them. Two resources are and Paul’s podcast, Trees Are Key.

3. Build a public bench to revive a public space.

Animated quote from Adam Greenfield (POY 2).

Adam Greenfield co-founded The Public Bench Project to create inviting public spaces in his San Francisco neighborhood. I talk with him about why the idea matters to him and how anyone can create a third place (i.e. a place besides home or work where people can gather).

What you can do: Adam’s work proves that fixtures like public benches can help us to reappreciate our public spaces as well as help us to restore our neighborhoods. Visit The Public Bench Project’s website for placement tips and for a free bench plan.

4. Sponsor good deeds in your community.

Animated quote from Laura Hale (POY 17).

Laura Hale wanted to bring her neighbors together in Burlington, Vermont, so she founded the ONE Good Deed Fund. Applicants nominate their neighbors for awards of up to $100 toward good deeds. So far, the effort has done things like allow one neighbor to buy waterproof boots for another, enable a community cleanup, and create lifelong friendships.

What you can do: Visit this page for tips from my talk with Laura, where she shares how to set up a fund like hers where you are. It’s surprisingly easy.

5. Attend community meetings, join a community group—or host them yourself.

Animated quote from Tony Barksdale (POY 32).

Tony Barksdale was inspired to become a police officer because he wanted to keep his grandfather’s neighborhood safe. He’s since developed a model to reduce violence in struggling neighborhoods across America. Tony’s advice for anyone wanting to stop crime? Support a local community group—or start one.

What you can do: Check sites like Meetup, Nextdoor, or Facebook Groups to find neighborhood associations or interest groups near you. If you can’t find what you’re looking for after searching and asking around, read this PDF guide for tips on how to form one yourself.

6. Try something different to spread a better culture where you live.

Animated quote from Bill Durkin (POY 28).

Bill Durkin started Politeness Points to reward kindness among Boston’s transit riders. He’s out to encourage empathy and dispel the notion that Bostonians are unfriendly.

What you can do: Making a difference doesn’t always require a massive effort or lots of planning. For instance, Bill turned his otherwise mundane commute into an opportunity for good. What’s something you’re already doing that you could change slightly to help others? If nothing else, you could always join Bill’s mini-movement.

More Ways to Get Involved