Inspiration and practical advice for building community
November 20, 2023 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I've been inspired recently by "The Year Without Sunshine" by Naomi Kritzer (found on the Blue, thanks kristi !). I want more community in my own life and I'm looking for both practical advice from people who have built community and more inspiration to help on the hard days. What can you recommend?

I've been struggling a lot with loneliness and the way that so many factors seem to push us apart and isolate us -- our physical environment here in the U.S. (I'm in the mid-south) with new crappy suburbs being built all the time, few public places and little public transit. Not to mention the effects of tech, media and our two party political system. I'll stop before this becomes a rant lol; I know I'm not alone in these feelings.

I loved how the community felt like the protagonist in Kritzer's story, and noticed a lot of things in the story that I miss in my own life, like having relationships with my neighbors and feeling like I have a mutual network, not of friends but of community members. I forget sometimes that we don't have to be friends to help each other out and care about each other.

I'm looking to change that in my life, and looking for both practical advice from people who have done it and more inspiration to help on the hard days.

Some other things roughly in this vein that I've enjoyed:
- "How to Make Friends" by Clare Coffey (thanks misskaz for posting on the blue)
- a TED talk and some writings by a researcher and academic, a woman who studies how to meet strangers, but I've lost track of her name (let me know if you know it!)
- Vivek Murthy's book Together, which is great -- I got it from the library once and need to finish it

I'd really like to read more about this, maybe listen to podcasts/videos, or even explore the websites of orgs/groups that are actively trying to build community, particularly across social boundaries. I'm most interested in practical advice and examples but also open to fiction, art or whatever else comes to mind.

Thanks in advance :)
posted by switcheroo to Human Relations (16 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If there is a Buy Nothing group in your area - join that. Ours really came to life during the pandemic, and there's something about commiserating over garage clean-outs and clothes your kids have overgrown to bring people together in a low-stakes way.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:36 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]

Best answer: nthing Buy Nothing. my little apple tree went bonkers this year and I have been giving them away to neighbors. we've been meeting at the door, talking about all the delicious ways to eat apples.

I have neighbors making apple butter, apple pie, and hard cider, which they will share with us. we have also had offers to share other fruit from their trees/gardens. its been LOVELY and reading that story hit me so hard in the feels around building a community of resilience and support in my area.

I was thinking of sharing that story with my Buy Nothings...I think I will!
posted by supermedusa at 11:44 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I really enjoyed the book, This is Where You Belong, by Melody Warnick, which was recommended on MeFi. The author comes to learn that part of enjoying the community she lives in, is building community wherever she lives. She includes a variety of real-life examples of things to do to feel more a part of the community.
posted by hydra77 at 11:56 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This is an excellent question and it's something I have been trying to do myself. My neighbors were strangers to me until I changed the way I lived in my neighborhood.

The lack of public space is real in my neighborhood too. So I decided to turn some of my private space into a welcoming public space. I spent a lot of time and love and work transforming my boring lawn of a front yard and it transformed me. My front garden is now a neighborhood gathering spot and all of a sudden I know my neighbors and they know me. We have a whole little free economy going on with veggies and flowers and bottles and dog toys and friendliness.

I started with a little free garden and then over the years the offerings have grown to include a lovely bench and chairs with a tic-tac-toe rock game, a wishing tree and a little labyrinth. One of the newest additions is a Free Dog Toys basket for the local dogs to take/leave balls and toys and sticks. There's also lots of signs encouraging people to use the space.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 12:44 PM on November 20 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Start with your block or your building or your apartment complex. I'm lucky to have a neighbor who likes playing "cruise director" and will periodically just send out an email to everyone (start an email list - not Nextdoor - to communicate with folks) and say "we're hanging out on the block tonight." People bring wine, beer, soda and snacks; kids run around. There's nothing organized, just folks hanging out.

So try knocking on some doors and introduce yourself. People might need a little structure to start with so maybe make up some flyers and invite people to get some cookies (store bought or homemade) and a little hot cocoa or hot apple cider that you provide and get to know each other.

You might also check with your local government. See if there is a "community development" or "neighborhoods" department. They might offer resources to help you get your neighbors together. You could invite someone over from your city's "Office of Emergency Management" to lead a training on how to prepare for an emergency. You could check in with the "Transportation" department see if you can get a permit to close down the street for a neighborhood gathering (my city offers "play street permits" that people can get to close down a street once in a while so kids can play on the block).
posted by brookeb at 1:03 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Besides the really great advice elsethread, you could also look for places people are building community already near you and start volunteering or going to events! CERT training, community gardens, local historical societies (especially ones that are leftist-oriented), local movie theaters or music venues or bookstores that hold a lot of events... I feel more a part of my community because there are a few things I go to every month or every few months (workshops, walking tours, volunteer days) where I see the same people and know a little bit about what's going on in their lives. I get on a lot of mailing lists for small local orgs & businesses. Honestly sometimes I think the reason I feel as connected to my local world as I do is just because I really love mailing lists and flyers.
posted by pneumaticvehicle at 4:07 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Highly recommend The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, which gets to the heart of what you're describing concerning loneliness, crafting more meaningful connections, and building community. She was also recently interviewed on the We Can Do Hard Things podcast expanding upon some of the same concepts explored in her book.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 5:05 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]

Another vote for the Priya Parker book - to add, she's a professional facilitator, so she's thought a lot about (and practiced) what makes gatherings work and what causes them to fall flat.
posted by coffeecat at 5:50 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anne Helen Petersen has written / is writing about this in her newsletter and forthcoming book.
posted by eyeball at 7:46 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

Hey, I have just been thinking this! Today I sat down and made a list of all the communities I am actually in - my extended family, my neighbourhood block, my church, my old school friends, etc - and it came to 23 communities. I'm thinking of ways to strengthen my ties to each of those communities by giving myself a small monthly to-do for each.

We often rush out to join new communities, but we are probably already inside some - people at work, people with a shared interest, people at shared places - and deepening those ties is valuable.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:26 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You might also want to see if there is a Meaningful Movies group in your area, or you could start one. Check to see if there is a Civic Saturdays event happening near you.

Faith communities are still a really important way to build social connection, so you might check around to see what might be a good fit for you. Or maybe there is an Aetheist Church in your area. Some faiths are also organizing secular versions, if that's more your speed.
posted by brookeb at 11:54 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

I did a thing 10 years ago where I made dinner for the first six people who RSVP'd when I posted it on Facebook. (You could post in the community so you're getting the audience you're seeking.) I did it every Sunday-ish. Some of the best ones were where I had a last-minute cancellation and asked someone to bring someone I didn't know. Everyone wrote in a book about something they learned or enjoyed that evening. It was a blast and I taught myself to cook in the process. If cooking does not appeal, you could do a craft, board or card games, or whatever else.
posted by *s at 3:11 PM on November 21

Best answer: I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list: What I Found in a Thousand Towns : A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time, by Dar Williams.

(So glad you liked the story!) ( ... and she's got a new book out, featured on John Scalzi's blog - Liberty's Daughter!)
posted by kristi at 5:40 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]

As in most things, you have to play to your strengths. Adult friendship generally forms about what you are adding to someone's life. Robinofroxley is providing the community a resource. Brookeb's neighbor is providing a service. What do you like to do or provide that others would appreciate? Do you throw cozy dinner parties? Do you have a garden to share from? Are you a good, empathetic listener? Do you have a skill others would like to learn? Focus on offering that, and then just keep showing up. It takes a certain number of interactions for friendship to build.
posted by ananci at 7:20 AM on November 22

Mod note: This fantastic request has been added to the Best of blog!
posted by Brandon Blatcher (staff) at 8:32 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all! These answers have been so great. I adore the idea of a free garden!! This is my new daydream for next summer, and I'm very excited about all the books I've added to my list.

I wanted to add another story I found in the rabbit hole of looking into the comments on this thread. Here's a meta thread in a similar vein that pointed me to this short memoir-ish piece, These Precious Days by Ann Patchett about the blossoming of a friendship that both broke my heart and filled it to the brim.
posted by switcheroo at 8:08 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]

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