People want these great communities, but they don't just happen. People worked to create a great community, and then they all work towards keeping it great. A great community isn't born from the heroic effort of one person; it takes a lot of cumulative little acts from many people.

Did you catch that?

Lots of little acts from many people.

And conversely, that's all it takes to ruin a great community, too. Lots of little acts from many people. The difference is that in a great community, those acts are kind ones, loving ones, gentle ones, beautiful ones, thoughtful ones. In a bad community, they are selfish ones, destructive ones, angry ones, spiteful ones, mean ones, ugly ones.

In a bad community, neighbors are apt to disregard their neighbors. Any interaction they may have is usually confrontational and often angry. This shows in small things as well as greater things: playing music disruptively loud, belligerence when asked to lower the volume, littering in neighboring yard, yelling at neighbors, encouraging children to play in the street rather than safely in the yards and sidewalks or nearby park, and may extend to vandalism of neighbor properties. Few people have anything nice to say about their neighbors, and while they may not go out of their way to discomfort their neighbors, they don't resist any opportunities that may come their way. Few of the neighbors know one another. Interactions between neighbors tend to be either laced with resentment or anger or is conducted through the police.

In even the best of the bad neighborhoods, there is a distinct lack of communication between neighbors and few know who lives near them. When communication happens between neighbors, it's accidental, curt, and often comes through the zoning enforcement officers or police. The homes may be lovely and well maintained, but there is no community. And that's the best of the bad neighborhoods.

In a good community, neighbors are considerate of one another. They know one another, which children go to which house, and ditto for pets. When the mail is misdelivered, they will redeliver it to the right person because they know who it is. They'll chat over lawn mowers or as the dogs get walked. When one neighbor is experiencing some hardship, the others help out - say an ice storm takes out many tree branches or storms knock branches down to block drives - good neighbors are out there cleaning up the debris, unblocking cars, shoveling snow, with one another. A group of them may go from home to home to set every house to rights after a huge storm. They talk to one another and warn their neighbors when they'll have a party that might get loud - and invite the neighbors over to enjoy the party.

Little things. "Hi, how are ya?" "Let me carry that bag to the door for you." "Your Rover got out of the yard so I put him back and leaned some boards over the hole until you can fix it." "You shovel the top of the drive, I'll work on the street end." "Heard you were sick, brought you some of Grammy's Special Soup." That kind of thing makes a neighborhood a good one. It's not mowed lawns - even a neighborhood with cars up on blocks and shaggy lawns can be a good one, because it's the people living there that make or break a neighborhood.

If you want to live in a good neighborhood, you have to be a good neighbor. And you do that by little acts, small talk, and smiling.

That's right. Sometimes, all it takes to turn a neighborhood around is smiling at your neighbors. Maybe a friendly wave. And then an exchange of weather conversation. Maybe an invitation to sip lemonade on the porch. And before you know it, you have a good neighborhood. And it all started with a smile.

Little acts of friendliness make good neighbors, and through them, good neighborhoods.
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