Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.” So wrote theorist and author Jane Jacobs in the 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her spirited rebuke to the kind of wrongheaded city planning that stifles community-building—low-density suburban sprawl, freeways cutting neighborhoods in half.
Jacobs probably would have detested modern-day Las Vegas, which is essentially one large suburb split into pieces by giant, un-crossable freeways and wide arterial roads. But she might have appplauded our efforts to accumulate small-change sidewalk contacts on Water Street, in the Arts District and in Downtown Summerlin—fellow Nike Run Club app users, other Golden Knights fans and so on—and add them up into a community.
Community is an important thing even in uncomplicated times, but it’s especially vital now as we enter the second (and hopefully last) year of an outbreak that has decimated families, friends and workplaces. This is a very good time to know, and engage with, the neighbors on the other side of the 6-foot brick walls that surround our homes. Here are a few tips to follow that will make your street feel more neighborly.
Organize a giant neighborhood bike ride.
This might be something for after we’ve reached herd immunity, but I have to tell you that going on a group bike ride—a dozen people or more, though I’ve ridden in packs that number more than a hundred—is a perfect way to spend Las Vegas’ warm spring and early/late summer evenings. Whether it’s a nighttime pub ride (easy to do Downtown, probably less so in Summerlin and Henderson) or just a meandering ride through quiet subdivision streets, there’s something about a Critical Mass-style bike ride that makes neighborhoods feel magical.
Create a neighborhood Facebook group.
Admittedly, this could backfire—few of us are huge Facebook fans right now, and social media is fraught with ugly divisions. But neighborhood Facebook groups, with membership limited to people who actually live in the area, are a great way to set up gatherings, keep a watch for shady activity and trade everything from home repair/landscaping/pool cleaning recommendations to unwanted furniture.
Socialize your doggos.
Talk to your dog-owning neighbors as you pass one another on walks. Are they up for walking together or for backyard play dates? This pandemic lockdown has been stressful for your dogs, too. They’d probably love to run around in an unfamiliar yard with some new friends.
Hold a (distanced) outdoor gathering.
It’s inadvisable to have indoor parties right now (not to mention, against the terms of Nevada’s current COVID restrictions). But you can invite over a small number of neighborhood folks (no more than 10, from no more than two households) to sit on lawn chairs in your driveway and shoot the breeze. This might even be something you’ll enjoy doing after the virus is defeated; after all, our driveways are the closest most Southern Nevada homes come to a front porch. Or, post-pandemic, you could transform the gathering into a roving cocktail party that jumps from one house to the next from month to month.
Set up a Little Free Library.
The Las Vegas Valley has a relatively strong public library system, but it’s never a bad idea to increase access to books. The website of the Little Free Library nonprofit organization (littlefreelibrary.org) explains how to build and stock one of these front-yard book exchanges; place one in your yard, and encourage neighbors to take and donate books as they see fit.
Share homegrown food from your fruit trees and home garden.
It’s a tricky thing to do in this climate, but it’s possible to create a sort of virtual orchard from neighborhood backyards—say, your citrus trees, your neighbor’s tomato plants and herbs from a retired teacher down the street—and share the spoils. Fruit trees, in particular, are well-suited to this; they often produce more fruit than you can handle, and fallen fruit is not only food waste, it attracts vermin. Why not let neighbors pick and enjoy it?
Create a package lookout squad.
Tired of porch pirates wandering off with your deliveries? Form a chain of your immediate neighbors, and text each other the second anyone lays a hand on a Prime delivery that isn’t theirs.