Chuck Rowe, center, tells next-door neighbor Eliot Ash, 3, and Eliot’s great-grandparents, Winfred and Marilyn McElroy, about living in Normal’s Maplewood subdivision. Rowe’s house, built by McElroy’s father, was the childhood home of Eliot’s mother. As an adult, Melissa Ash moved her own family to the neighborhood she loves.
NORMAL — Melissa Ash spent her first eight years in a house her great-grandfather built on Stephens Drive, playing tag along the quiet street, climbing the toys at Underwood Park and walking to school at nearby Colene Hoose Elementary School.
“I had so many fond memories of growing up in this neighborhood,” says Ash, a graphic designer who now lives next door to her childhood home. “It’s the perfect part of town.”
That’s not just hyperbole in the Maplewood subdivision: Ash is among five residents who grew up in the neighborhood and moved back as adults.
But a neighborhood can be as simple or complex as the families within it, and knowing how to be a good neighbor – or avoid being a bad one – is the key to happiness.
“You need to be considerate to your neighbors at all hours of the day,” said Officer Sara Mayer, spokeswoman for Bloomington Police Department.
Charles Alsberry, president of the Neighbors Association of Normal, explains it much the way scientists explain the chaos theory: a butterfly can flap its wings and a hurricane can strike across the world two weeks later.
A good neighbor is both micro and macro, helping next door but also in the larger community: attending a festival, volunteering with a group, joining a city commission, ensuring education and jobs are available to all.
That’s how it happened with Naomi Towner, who was a year away from retirement when she built a house in the Irvin Park neighborhood of Bloomington.
“They were very welcoming,” said Towner, a retired art professor. “People came up and said ‘Hi, I’m so and so,’ that kind of thing.”
But an email “tree” spurred by a new Neighborhood Watch program is what “really brought us closer together as a neighborhood. We got to know each other through the Watch,” she said.
Knowledge is key to being a good neighbor and having a safe neighborhood.
“You need to know everybody,” said Bloomington officer Dave White. “You want the neighbors to know who’s around them.”
Having a common interest — kids, workplace, hometown, volunteering — can help develop relationships with new neighbors.
Wiener roasts, bicycle parades and the notion of “shake hands across
a fence, bring soup to
an ailing neighbor” always work, but technology has opened other options.
In the Maplewood subdivision, which had a Watch program and an established neighborhood association, Ash joined a social media site called Nextdoor.com.
She created a Maplewood page that lets neighbors share photos, questions and tips, and provided a place to coordinate a recent neighborhood garage sale.
The neighborhood association hosts an annual picnic, newsletter and map, along with an oft-copied newspaper story explaining the history of the subdivision.
Alsberry likes both approaches, but thinks a Web presence is a crucial addition, given today’s busy schedules.
He hopes an upcoming expansion of Neighbors Association of Normal’s website will provide an even better connection between the town and its many neighborhood associations.
The Watch email tree worked that way for Towner: “(It) started getting people knowing each other, contacting someone or asking to put out an email about ‘I lost my keys’ or ‘My little dog is missing,’ and sometimes those things then were found. … It was one of those wonderful chain reactions I really hadn’t thought about when (the Watch) started.”
In Normal’s Fell Park neighborhood, Judy Scott says looking back has helped as much as looking next door: A man, now 87, lives in the house in which he was born, and remembers a lot of former homeowners.
They’ve provided some insight into the neighborhood’s history and its turn-of-the-century houses, and share stories at the annual potluck as they mingle with current homeowners.
Robert Frost, among others, is credited with “Good fences make good neighbors,” but there are a number of other ideas for building community a neighbor at a time:
- Maintain your home (mow, paint, pick up trash);
- Be seen but not heard (keep the music and TV down, keep the dog from barking, watch the yelling and other noise);
- Be friendly, not nosy; don’t gossip;
- If you see something suspicious, call authorities;
- If someone needs help, lend a hand;
- Don’t hog the common areas; clean up after yourself;
- If you borrow something, return it promptly and in the same condition;
- Get to know each other and don’t stew over issues; talk as problems arise.