It’s the Little Things

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Often in our work we are asked to find physical solutions to problems related to community connections. While physical interventions like new bike lanes, an improved retail scene or new public spaces often help and are an important piece of the placemaking puzzle, too often we ignore or just don’t see the little things that are right in front of us: the day-to-day human interactions and experiences that can tell us a lot about the problems that need to be solved or where solutions can be found. Here are a few of the little things we consistently see in connected and cohesive communities around the country:

Sharing a meal

Places that eat together stay together. Whether it be impromptu grill outs with neighbors or a more organized event like a monthly potluck, sharing a meal is a pretty personal experience that can develop a contagious sense of camaraderie.

The ‘Missed Bus’ test

One way to measure the human experience of a place is the ‘missed bus’ test. Often, turning a corner and seeing your bus pull away is extremely frustrating. But if missing the bus and having to walk isn’t an annoyance but a reward, you know you’ve found a community worth staying in.

Do you know the crossing guard’s name?

The job of the crossing guard is an important one. They keep our kids safe and help slow traffic at one of the busiest times of the day. If you only view them from a windshield then this may not be top of mind, but if you live in a neighborhood that values human connections then you likely not only value their role, you also know them on a personal level.

The front porch wave

A simple but easily measured test. How far can you walk in your community before someone says hello or waves from their front porch? On a nice day in some of the most connected communities you can hardly make it 15 feet.

Talk to three people you’ve never met before on a weekend

Meeting or interacting with new people can be a pretty uncommon occurrence in many communities. But in places with a strong social fabric it is actually common to have numerous interactions with both neighbors and visitors over the course of a weekend. Whether on the sidewalk, at the local cafe or in the park these interactions are often spontaneous and short lived, but still powerful.

What are some of the little things that you see or experience in your day-to-day?