I live in a three-story walk-up apartment building on the west side of Vancouver. I’ve lived in the same building for over six years, yet most of my neighbours are practically strangers. While I’m polite to them, the social bonds between us are weak at best.
It’s not uncommon to hear Vancouverites complain about similar experiences in neighbourhoods throughout the city. Shrouded in an air of aloofness, Vancouver can feel downright disconnected at times.
Like in many big cities, a lack of community connection in Vancouver is a pressing social issue. According to a recent survey by the Vancouver Foundation, one-third of Metro Vancouver residents do not know if their neighbours trust each other. Not exactly the ideal basis for fostering a safer community, not to mention a friendlier one. In fact, the same study found that one-third of Vancouver residents find it difficult to make new friends here. The study concludes that neighbourhood connections in Vancouver are “cordial, but weak.”
This got me thinking: how could I help bring some small-town sense of community to a big city like Vancouver? To explore this question, I challenged myself in April to do one act a day to help strengthen connections in my community, both within my immediate personal and professional networks as well as within the community at large. My only rule was that each act must be different.
Well-connected communities tend to be more vibrant, engaging, and democratic than disconnected ones. When connections within a community are strong, its residents are generally healthier, happier, and more involved in civic life.
Some examples of things I tried this month to help build community connections include attending a community event, buying food at a Farmer’s Market, shopping at locally owned businesses, supporting local indie artists, visiting my neighbourhood library, and participating in a public dialogue to give community leaders my input about local issues. I even wrote a letter to the mayor to thank and encourage him for making positive decisions for our city. [Though I haven’t received a reply, it still felt good to put my gratitude in writing.]
Not all my efforts to build community connections have been monumental. For example, one day this month I simply made a conscious effort to praise others as I went about my day; another day I asked my colleagues about their lives; yet another day I made a point to have meaningful conversations with my neighbours. Even simple actions done regularly can make a big difference to you and others in your life.
In total, I spent $335 on my various acts this month, for an average of $11 per day. While most of my acts were inexpensive or free, I did splurge on a few big-ticket items, like hosting a dinner for friends and supporting a local band. If your budget is tight, it’s certainly possible to do this challenge without spending as much.
One of the perks of helping to strengthen community connections is it’s good for you. Getting more connected within your community helps to give you a sense that you belong, reduces social isolation, improves your health and well-being, and can lead to more personal and professional opportunities. And you might just find that some of your neighbours become trusted friends.
Take the Challenge
Want to try this challenge for yourself? Here are some suggestions:
- Create the challenge – set the parameters for your challenge. My rule was to do a different act every day, and I made sure to focus on both strong and weak ties. You can adapt the challenge to reflect your own personal interests and constraints.
- Brainstorm ideas – start the month by brainstorming a list of ways to strengthen connections in all areas of your life. To help get started, check out my list of 30 ways to build community connections.
- Build up your strong ties – strengthening the bonds within your immediate networks of family, friends, neighbours and co-workers helps to provide a base of support for a healthy, fulfilled and happy life. While it’s a good idea to nurture these close relationships every day, this challenge gives you a chance to be intentional about strengthening the ties with the people closest to you.
- Strengthen weak ties – it’s also important to develop broader connections within your community. Strengthening these weak ties helps to create a more vibrant and engaged place to live, and can also help enhance your own sense of belonging within the local community. Be sure to include a number of acts that strengthen the weak ties within your community. For example, shop at locally owned businesses, attend community events, or get to know a homeless person in your neighbourhood.
- Connect with people you don’t know – try including some acts that build connections with people you don’t know or may never meet in person. For example, buy something created by a local artist, write a letter of encouragement to a municipal politician, or simply strike up a conversation with a stranger. It’s good to know you can contribute to your local community in indirect ways too.
- Stick with it – keep at it, even after the month is up. Remember that getting more connected not only enriches your own life, but also helps to make your local community a better place for everyone.