Keeping peace on the block

Apr 26, 2008 at 8:37 p.m. ET

When we moved into our house, we were thrilled to be part of a small, close-knit neighborhood. There were children our children's ages, nice adults, and a quiet road. We felt that we'd hit the jackpot.

In our first days as we unpacked, cleaned and painted, the established neighbors brought cookies and coffee explained some neighborhood "ways": how the plowing was done in the winter and the general approach to maintenance of our common private way. It was a lovely welcome.

We settled in quickly, but that's not to say there weren't occasionally misunderstandings and oversteps all around as we all came to know each other better. There were. We are all individuals, after all, and all have our quirks and preferences and differing parenting styles. Things happen. As friendly and welcoming as the neighbors were, their bonds ran deeper and they knew each other better because they had been neighbors longer. We couldn't expect to attain that same level in the first two weeks, or the first two months, and perhaps not even in the first two years.

It comes down to respect

As I figured out and adjusted to the existing dynamic in our neighborhood, I also took the opportunity to talk to other acquaintances in town about the dynamic in their neighborhoods. We all had stories of boundaries crossed, literally and figuratively, intentionally and unintentionally, in current and prior neighborhoods. It seemed that the smaller the neighborhoods the higher the potential for a community utopia and higher the risk for disaster.

In the bigger the neighborhoods, there were more opportunities for buffers in the form of personalities and boundary lines – but also sometimes bigger political issues, especially if there is a homeowners association is involved. And gossip. Don't forget the gossip.

No matter the size of your block or building or cul de sac, respect is essential. Respect with honesty and compassion and an open mind is even better. You are all in it together, literally. You may not live in the same house, but you are living together. When missteps do happen, being quick to say sorry and work it out is absolutely necessary for neighborhood harmony.

Change is inevitable

It seems as soon as everything seems completely comfortable, it's time for a change. A new baby or growing kids makes what was a just right house too small, a new job takes a family to a new town, or it's time to downsize in retirement. Then the neighborhood adjustment to a new resident starts all over again.

Regardless of how frequently or infrequently neighborhood changes happen, keep those welcome cookies baking.

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