In a world where technology has increased our connection like never before, it seems paradoxical that neighborly friendliness is on the decline. Our neighborhoods, once strongholds of community and camaraderie, have become increasingly isolated. Most of us have never even spoken to our next-door neighbors—if we even know who they are. The warmth of a friendly wave or a casual chat over the picket fence has given way to anonymity and disconnection. So, why aren’t neighbors friendly anymore? Let’s explore the reasons behind this trend. Along the way, we’ll suggest ways to increase the strength of your neighborhood group.
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Why Aren’t Neighbors Friendly Anymore?
Borrowing a cup of sugar in the 1950s would have been perfectly normal, and any good neighbor would have obliged. In America today, unless you live in a small town, most people don’t even know the people who live in close proximity to them. It’s a shame because your neighbors are really your best allies. They share the same concerns and understand your living situation like no one else. They can be valuable in helping to keep your children and property safe, and it’s likely that you share at least some common interests. We really should try to have at least a friendly acquaintance with our closest neighbors. In an effort to increase social contact, let’s explore all the reasons we’re failing to be friendly neighbors.
1. The Digital Divide
The digital age has brought countless conveniences into our lives, but it has also played a significant role in the decline of neighborly friendliness. With smartphones, social media, and online entertainment at our fingertips, we often find ourselves engrossed in virtual worlds, disconnected from the real world right outside our front door. Instead of spending our Saturday nights having a BBQ with the neighbors, we’re having Netflix binge nights.
Research conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that the average American spends a staggering amount of time online each day, with 44% of adults between 18 and 49 stating that they’re online “almost constantly.” That translates into less time engaging with neighbors and real-life friends. In an age where our screens are constant companions, it’s not surprising that we find less time to interact with those living next door.
2. Work-Life Imbalance
Another factor contributing to the decline in neighborly friendliness is the increasingly hectic pace of modern life. The demands of work, coupled with longer commutes and jam-packed schedules, leave little time or energy for meaningful social interactions. We barely have time for our best friends and family, much less making new friends or chatting with acquaintances.
Data from Zipdo states that 66% of Americans are dissatisfied with their work-life balance. Also, they state that “the average work-life balance rating in the U.S. dropped from 3.5 out of 5 in 2009 to 3.2 out of 5 in 2019.” As we find ourselves struggling to balance the demands of our jobs and personal lives, it’s no wonder that neighborly interactions have taken a back seat.
3. Fear and Anonymity
Fear is a powerful motivator, and in today’s world, many people feel hesitant to engage with their neighbors due to safety concerns. We no longer make eye contact with strangers because they might follow us home and murder us or, worse, start a conversation on the subway. Stories of neighborhood crime and disturbances shared through the media have led to increased suspicion and apprehension, making it less likely for neighbors to engage with one another.
Research published in the Journal of Crime Prevention and Community Safety demonstrates that the perceived fear of crime can hinder neighborly interactions by lowering social bonds and residential ties. When people feel unsafe or suspicious of their neighbors, they are less likely to engage in friendly gestures or communal activities.
4. Busy Schedules and Helicopter Parenting
Many of today’s neighborhoods are filled with children who are involved in an array of extracurricular activities. They’re also closely supervised by their parents. The intense schedules of both adults and children leave little room for spontaneous interactions with neighbors. There’s no time for a pop-up game in someone’s backyard when every kid in the neighborhood has after-school violin lessons, ballet class, or soccer practice.
Research reveals that parents today are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. This is commonly referred to as “helicopter parenting.” It’s been on the rise since the mid-1980s and has peaked today. Parents are controlling aspects of their children’s education and social interactions well into their college years. Due to the fear of crime and too many parenting books, moms and dads are hovering more over their children these days, which decreases their neighborhood exploration.
For an in-depth examination of helicopter parenting and its effects, take a look at “Hovering Overhead: Understanding the Impacts of Helicopter Parenting.”
5. The Death of Front Porches
In the past, front porches served as natural gathering places for neighbors to socialize and share their lives. However, as urban and suburban designs have evolved, front porches have often given way to private backyards and enclosed spaces. Single-story, detached family homes have been replaced by high-rise apartment complexes. This architectural shift has contributed to a decline in casual neighborly encounters.
This phenomenon is especially true in cities without safe and clean communal spaces. The lack of green spaces, playgrounds, and pedestrian strolling streets in American cities prevents urbanites from enjoying the outdoors with neighbors. Again, the fear of crime creeps into this section as well, as the public spaces we do have are often gathering spots for the homeless, drug addicts, and gangs. While these folks are not necessarily dangerous to the general public, most people have a perceived sense of possible danger and therefore keep their distance.
6. Consumerism and Self-Isolation
Consumer culture has played a role in driving people away from their neighbors. The pursuit of material possessions and individualistic lifestyles often takes precedence over building strong community connections. Most American families are just looking after their own affairs and aren’t particularly concerned about the affairs of their neighbors.
Not only is consumerism an issue, but the way we consume has changed. We no longer talk at the grocery store because we order our food from HelloFresh. Most of us don’t meet at JCPenney because we ordered all our Christmas gifts from Amazon. We don’t even see each other at the local cafe because Domino’s delivered our pizza to the door.
7. Political Polarization
The divisive political climate in recent years has had a spillover into our neighborhoods. Differences in political ideologies can strain neighborly relationships, leading to political polarization that makes it difficult to engage in friendly conversations or collaborative efforts. With controversial issues like COVID-19, Donald Trump, Israel vs. Palestine, race, and gender, it seems our entire society is a powder keg ready to explode. While there are a slew of keyboard warriors out there, most citizens are afraid to speak their minds in real life because they don’t want to be socially ostracized or come into conflict with others.
While we have always had political parties and ideologies, research from the Pew Research Center shows that political polarization in the United States and the differences in ideologies between Republicans and Democrats have never been more stark. It has been on the rise for decades. When neighbors hold opposing political beliefs in this day and age, it can be challenging to maintain friendly interactions, leading to a sense of isolation within the community.
8. Perception of Independence
Within the modern United States, there’s a perception that the strongest among us are the ones who rely only on themselves. We’re coached and expected to take care of things on our own. We should make our own money and handle our own problems. We shouldn’t need a community, a church group, or any other human being to use as a crutch. That’s the Gen X/Older Millenial mentality.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, it has degraded our sense of community. We don’t rely on each other to get by anymore. Most of us don’t share resources. We don’t share our troubles, and we don’t utilize our community to raise children. Fortunately, some of this seems to be changing in recent years, as we are realizing as a society that we do need community. Seeking therapy and focusing on work-life balance are becoming more popular as we begin to shine a spotlight on our need for self-care.
Rekindling Neighborly Friendliness
While it may seem that the decline of neighborhoods is a dire situation, there are steps we can take to rekindle the spirit of community in our neighborhoods. The truth of the matter is that Americans are suffering from more loneliness than ever before. Adult friendship is on the decline across the board but especially among males. People are silently crying out for social interaction while shunning it at the same time. It’s something we’ve really got to flip the tables on. Here are a few good ways to get the ball rolling.
1. Technology Moderation
Encourage technology moderation in your household. Designate specific times for screen use, and engage in real-life activities with your family, including spending time with neighbors. Set aside blocks of time to be outside, and when you’re outside, invite the neighbor kids over to play.
2. Balancing Work and Life
Make a conscious effort to maintain a work-life balance. Allocate time for leisure, socializing, and community engagement. This will be hard at first, but if you set your boundaries and stick to them, your boss will eventually get the picture. You’re contracted for a certain amount of hours or a certain bandwidth. You don’t owe your company your whole life, and trust us when we say that your loyalty most likely won’t be repaid. Work hard when you’re working, but don’t let your work consume your whole life. It’s not worth missing out on family, friends, and community.
3. Fostering Safety
Work together with your neighbors to enhance the safety of your community. Neighborhood watch programs and community policing initiatives can help build trust among residents. If you live in a community with an HOA, petition your group for better street lights, speed bumps, or a gate. Place cameras outside your home or in a public neighborhood space.
4. Community Events
Take the first step to unite your neighbors. Organize or participate in community events, such as block parties, potlucks, or neighborhood clean-up days. These gatherings can help break the ice and foster camaraderie. Face-to-face communication with your neighbors is the fastest way to build a stronger community. Plus, when you’re together during a community event, ideas are sparked. Concerns are mentioned, and solutions evolve!
5. Welcoming Newcomers
Make an effort to welcome new neighbors when they move in. A warm welcome can go a long way in building a sense of belonging and friendliness. New people will generally follow the tone set by others in the community.
6. Front Porch Revival
If possible, bring back the tradition of front porches. Spend more time on your front porch or on the driveway, and encourage your neighbors to do the same. This can create a natural space for interaction.
7. Reduce Consumerism
Reevaluate your consumption patterns and priorities. Focus on experiences and relationships rather than material possessions. This can free up time and resources for building stronger friendships with neighbors. Set aside a bit of money each month, if you can, to donate or give to a community cause that you care about. Even a few dollars helps, and it is a monthly reminder to you and your family that there are others in need around you. Money is tight for many right now, but if you can exchange one morning Starbucks for a $5 donation or a gift for your neighbor this month, give it a try!
8. Neutral Ground for Politics
If political discussions arise, try to maintain respectful and open dialogues. Avoid divisive topics if they threaten neighborly harmony, and find common ground on local issues. Remember that even though we may disagree on the right way to do things, most people value the same things. We just want a safe and healthy life for those we love and to live in peace.
9. Advocate for Shared Spaces
If you live in a neighborhood lacking communal spaces, work with your community association or local government to create shared spaces like parks, playgrounds, and community centers. Don’t just assume there’s nothing you can do. If you get the ball rolling, others will likely jump on board.
Creating a Better Neighborhood
So, why aren’t neighbors friendly anymore? Well, as you’ve seen, it’s a complex problem with a great many factors. Our society is changing, and it’s not always for the better. Neighborly friendliness should not be a relic of the past but a valuable aspect of modern life. We can revive it!
In an increasingly digital and disconnected world, taking steps to strengthen our neighborhoods can enhance our quality of life and well-being. By understanding the reasons behind the decline of neighborhoods and actively working to counteract them, we can foster a sense of community and bring back the warmth of genuine neighborly interactions. So, let’s put down our screens, step outside, and start making an effort to know the people who live right next door.
Still not sure how to go about meeting your neighbors? Take a few cues from the “Best Getting to Know You Questions: Make Friends with Anyone.”
Did you just move into your neighborhood? Check out “How to Make Friends in a New City” for some pointers on creating a strong new community.