Creating community: Neighbors share ideas on getting together
Seattle Times staff reporter
Cheryl Marks swapped some used books, kitchen stuff and an old futon for a sense of community.
It wasn't quite that simple, but Marks, 50, said a dozen-family garage sale she helped organize in her Ravenna-Bryant area last spring opened the door to gaining a richer sense of who her neighbors are and what they share in common.
"It didn't come out of a need to feel connected; that just kind of happened," said Marks.
Marks was among readers who responded with their own stories after our "How To" feature on ways in which a sense of community can be developed and kindled at the neighborhood level.
She's been in her neighborhood 10 years, and as of last year had only met her closest neighbors. But a conversation about getting rid of surplus stuff led to a three-family garage sale last fall, which ballooned into the 12-family, two-block event in the spring.
"It was great getting names to associate with the faces," she said. Preparations are underway for a similar event later this month, and this time organizers are finding out if residents want to be included in a neighborhood directory.
Nancy Adams, an Alki condo owner, said simple social gatherings organized by the head of her building's homeowners' association have fostered a sense of togetherness and community.
"He uses any excuse to get together once a month or so — meet a new neighbor, say goodbye to a neighbor, Fourth of July fireworks ... everyone brings an hors d'oeuvres and beverage. ... It's a great way of uniting everyone and staying in touch with community problems."
Adams, 46, a retired life-insurance marketer, also has met area residents by volunteering to take care of shrubs and grasses in a section of a city-planted parkway across the street.
She finds herself in conversations with regular walkers along the route, and volunteers who take care of the other greenbelt sections.
Connections both inside and outside the condominium have paid off when the neighbors want to speak with a strong voice on issues such as whether more parking is allowed along Alki Avenue Southwest.
In addition, Adams said, "We're a very powerful but unofficial block watch. We pay a lot of attention to what's going on along the beach."
In Magnolia, four-footed companions have helped Deborah Cushing turn neighbors into friends. "Community takes a 'getting to know you' aspect. ... Dogs are a great way to get to know your neighbors. They foster the 'hello' that leads to more chitchat, which leads to potential friendship. ... And when that is created, who knows what can happen in the name of community!"
Conversation happens naturally when Cushing, a community volunteer and retired attorney, walks Riley, her 135-pound collie mix, along with her 25-pound dachshund-spaniel, Moxie.
Dog-walkers, Cushing said, also keep an eye on their surroundings. "Especially if they have a regular routine, they know what should and shouldn't be happening at various locales at certain times of the day."
But it's crucial, Cushing said, for dog owners themselves to be good neighbors: keeping their pets on leashes, cleaning up after them and not leaving them alone outside to bark at passers-by.
Another reader, who asked that her name not be published, said generating community relies on a basic level of courtesy and consideration. "It's not all porch lights and potlucks out there," she said, "What can be done with neighbors who are outright callous and thoughtless?"
She's had problems with barking dogs, but her current nemesis — which may prompt her and her husband to sell their home south of Seattle — is a rooster that crows almost constantly.
Those types of neighborhood situations can be delicate but are actually quite common, said Tony Hazapis, executive director of the private, nonprofit King County Dispute Resolution Center, which tries to help people remove some of the obstacles to neighborliness.
The 14-year-old center doesn't take sides on an issue but looks for ways in which both parties can craft a mutually acceptable resolution. The service can be contacted at 206-443-9603 or toll-free at 888-803-4696. More information is available at www.kcdrc.org.
Jack Broom: firstname.lastname@example.org.