BELONGING

How to be a good neighbor

By

Venn

– VOL. 2

So much has changed over the past year, and yet so much is still the same. The line at General Irving in Brooklyn may still be spaced out, but the masks have come off. We still pick up after our dogs, but now it’s easier for the owners to chat at the dog park. We share lemons, and the WiFi password, and the name of that great local restaurant where the barriers have recently come down.

Yes, even in a time of seemingly endless change, our neighborhoods endure. While some aspects of being a good neighbor are changing in our post-pandemic, newly opening-up-again world, some are universal. Not only are good neighbors the foundation of strong, supportive neighborhoods, it turns out, being a good neighbor is also good for your health, good for your mood, and good for us all. Here’s how:

1. Reach Out

Studies show all of us are re-adjusting after a strange period of social disconnection. But as you wave to your neighbor with a tentative hello, or engage with your favorite bartender or barista, know that these casual friendships are actually good for your health. In fact, they can improve and even extend your life. Even before the pandemic, experts identified that loneliness is comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day as a risk factor for mortality.

Those casual relationships that develop across the neighborhood—with your grocer, the other parents at school, or the guy downstairs—are vital for overall feelings of happiness. A 2014 study found that the more casual friendships a person has, the deeper their sense of belonging to a community. In addition to making us feel less lonely, these relationships can also make a big difference in a person’s life, whether it’s by providing a job recommendation or empowering us to be more empathetic. In Venn neighborhoods, for instance, Neighbors saw a 50% decline in self-reported loneliness last year—when loneliness was clearly on the rise across the globe. They also reported a 50% rise in the number of new connections made with Neighbors. (Source: Venn’s ‘Annual Impact Report, 2020’).

Image of kansas city neighbors

Mac+Venn Neighbors enjoying ice cream from Meltbox.

2. Shop Local

Part of the power of our neighborhood connections comes from our connection to local businesses. Whether it’s having a trusted gardener, or strolling into a coffee shop where they know your drink, developing these connections has a lasting impact neighborhood-wide. 

Last year, when many small businesses struggled, Venn Neighbors saw a 240% boost in local spending. In Brooklyn, Neighbors came together to create localized virtual stores where they could shop and order at a safe distance from each other. We provided shelf space to a wide range of businesses—featuring goods from the local pet shop, restaurants, and other stores. While Seamless, Grubhub, and UberEats took a large cut of every transaction, Venn did this for free to empower Neighbors and support the local economy. By the end of 2020, every Venn Neighbor returned an average of $2,240 more to their local economy, strengthening small businesses around the world at a critical time (Source: Venn’s ‘Annual Impact Report, 2020’).

Image of local vendors Kansas City

Neighbors peruse goods from local businesses at the Summer on Armour Neighborhood Celebration.

3. Stay Connected – Even in Trying Times

Moving our social interactions largely online over the past year only increased our appreciation of and reliance on real-world connections. Whether it was the applause for first responders ringing out onto an otherwise eerily quiet Brooklyn night in the height of lockdown, or the coffee and donut truck that recently greeted Kansas City as the city opens up again—we crave human-to-human contact more than ever. 

And it turns out—what’s good for one Neighbor, may be good for all.

As David Brooks wrote in the New York Times even before the pandemic, “the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change.” It’s certainly been the experience of our Venn community recently. Over the past year, as the COVID-19 crisis became a mental health crisis, we added events to address that, like gardening and mindfulness classes. We also provided moments of levity and joy through socially distanced outdoor concerts and virtual comedy shows. 

These opportunities to connect and give back also help people put down roots. When our Neighbors participate in two different connection opportunities in their neighborhood, they are 90% more likely to stay (Source: Venn’s ‘Annual Impact Report, 2020’). 

Across every Venn community, Neighbors have self-organized to do more than 50 “give back” events, in-person and socially distanced, to support children’s education, the environment, social justice, and a long list of other causes important to our neighborhoods. And that’s change built to last. For good. 

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