While there are still some warm days left in September, the cooler days of fall are inevitably approaching. That means it’s time to start packing up your summer outdoor setup — your sprinkler, kiddie pool and hot weather furnishings. At the same time, consider new ways of connecting with your neighbors and fostering community in your neighborhood. For example, the international Neighborhoodconnect.org offers 80 wonderful ideas for staying close to your closest community.
It turns out, your own front yard is a great place to start. Try these tips gleaned from my own neighborhood and others across Seattle. If you live in an apartment, talk to management about how these ideas might be integrated into complex or building community spaced or the front entry of your building.
Make a front-and-center cold-weather space
It’s great to create comfortable, private spaces to engage with friends and family in the backyard. But spending time in your front yard creates opportunities to interact with neighbors. Consider creating a cold-weather front yard gathering space as well. It might include a water repellent tent (grand or makeshift) with outdoor chairs and a table, outdoor lights, covered seats with warm blankets, heat lamps and some outdoor toys good for all weather.
Think reuse or recycle
It may be nice to have all of the specific gear for cold-weather gatherings, but the truth is you do not need to spend a lot of money to create your space. Most outdoor summer furniture can be repurposed for the cooler months and other items can be found for free or at minimal cost on your neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Project page, on Craigslist, or even in some summer clearance aisles at stores. It doesn’t need to be new or luxurious, it just needs to be present.
Create a space for all ages
Got mobile toddlers but no fence in front? No problem. Our twins were quite mobile the summer after they turned 1. We brought out a big play yard with toys to occupy them while we enjoyed our neighborhood. Sometimes it takes a little thinking out of the box – or in this case, in the box! — to ensure kids are front yard safe.
Move holiday and other activities to the front yard
As we get deeper into fall and then winter, consider carving pumpkins out front, building a leaf pile for kids to jump in, or putting up fall decorations for your neighbors to enjoy. As winter rolls in, invite the neighbors to a winter decorating party in your yard or suggest a moving decoration party where neighbors help neighbors add cheer to home exteriors.
Eat out front
A lot of families eat dinner in the back yard or on a back deck when they dine outside, but it can be just as easy to eat out front, even in cooler weather. It’s yet another opportunity to see neighbors as they pass by. Anticipate interruptions! The whole point is to interact with neighbors. This fall, consider bundling up a bit and having a meal (or your morning coffee) out front.
Host front yard playdates
Invite the neighborhood kids you already know for a front yard playdate. As the kids play in the front yard, you may meet other families out for a neighborhood stroll. These interactions wouldn’t happen if you only played in your backyard.
Install a little library – or frequent those nearby
If your neighborhood is anything like ours, there are Little Free Libraries on nearly every street. Just the other day, my kids and I were picking some books out at one of these, a few blocks from our house, just as the homeowner was leaving their home. We didn’t have much time to connect, but she pointed out that she had extra books on her porch, and we thanked her for providing this service for the neighborhood.
In the same vein
Create a “Little Art Gallery,” a simple box placed at a good sightline for passersby. It’s a great way to encourage kids – and adult neighbors – to get creative and share their work. Post calls for art inside the box. For example: “It’s National Poetry Month! Share your poems here!” Or leave crayons and photocopy coloring pages for kids to discover and return.
Add a pedestrian bench
Place a bench or chair on your sidewalk strip or in front of your house for passersby to use. A neighbor a few blocks away from us has a bench next to her Little Free Library. Neighbors can stop for a rest while out for a walk, or peruse which books they’ll take home from the library.
Treat the pets
This same neighbor (she has quite the setup!) has a small container of pet treats next to her bench. This is a generous invitation for pet-owners to stop and treat their furry loved ones as they’re out and about in the neighborhood.
Share a bucket of sidewalk chalk
Consider using the sidewalk to write encouraging messages to your neighborhood. You could even host a neighborhood winter chalk-art contest – block off squares for neighbors to draw in, and then have neighbors place marks next to their favorite pictures.
Add shade and a rain-free spots
It’s hard to stand out in the hot sun or the pouring rain and have a good long conversation with neighbors. Add shade plants, a sun shade or a covered area to protect against the wet. It might be as simple as an umbrella in summer or an inexpensive waterproof sail shade or canopy for wet weather.
Include a few seek-and-find or quirky items to your front garden
My kids love passing what they call the duck house – a house that has various rubber ducks on their front steps. They always go up to visit the ducks, and delight in seeing them on our walks. Consider adding your own eclectic items to your front yard – you could even hide them so kids have to find them!
Make a kid “give one, leave one” spot
Provide a bucket filled with little toys that kids can take, and invite them to leave a toy for another neighborhood kid to take.
Host a movie night in the front yard
You may already have a setup for outdoor movies in your backyard. Consider how you could move your setup to the front yard and host a front yard movie night for the neighbors.
Throw a front yard party
It could be as formal as invitations and a meal, or as informal as bringing out a crockpot with hot apple cider to share with folks as they walk by. Food is a great connector.
You don’t need to spend money, have an elaborate setup or reinvent the wheel when it comes to connecting with neighbors in your front yard. All it takes is your presence, some creativity and an intention to be a positive presence in your community.