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EDITORIAL: Our neighbours need not be perfect to enhance our lives

In summer, the activities of our neighbours might conflict with our schedules and sensibilities, but this patchwork of activity is a welcome sign of life.

You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your neighbours. 

Come summer, this simple fact might transform into a point of contention as the warm weather gives us a wider range of options for leisure (beyond curling up with a mug of hot chocolate and calling it a night). 

Those living in houses might find music blaring from a party somewhere over the fence, dogs barking from a backyard, and a small jungle beginning to form on a neighbour’s lawn where well-kept grass could be. 

We might wish away these intrusions into our own schedules and sensibilities, but we would be overzealous to do so. 

One might recall the episode of The Twilight Zone where bank teller Henry Bemis only wants peace and quiet so he can read. Bemis wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world delighted to be alone with his books, only to have his glasses break, preventing him from reading them. 

Just as Bemis needs society to repair his glasses, we need our neighbours to form the communities we’re a part of, and often, their presence can be a crucial lifeline. 

Knowing our neighbours is linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety, and an overall sense of well-being. Further, a good relationship with those who live beside us can also mean material aid during difficult times; neighbours can help pick the kids up from school, send over baking, or shovel a walkway. 

Despite these benefits, a 2019 study from Nextdoor concluded that close to 40 per cent of Canadians only know one or two of their neighbours. 

This erosion might be the result of modern conveniences; in recent years, the Internet has become a common route to find community, but connecting over a screen often divides more than it unites. Arguments with the anonymous can take precedence over meaningful connection, with algorithms designed to ignite our anger in exchange for our valuable attention. 

House design likely also plays a role in keeping us apart from our neighbours. Front garages allow us to leave and enter our homes without stepping outside, widening the gap between ourselves and others even further. 

Thankfully, the same season that might bring a flurry of activity to the neighbourhood also presents opportunities for togetherness. 

Pet-walkers who might have been inclined to speed through the street in -35 weather might find opportunity to slow down and say hello. 

Music coming from a next-door party might be an excuse to throw your own, or invite a neighbour over for an evening bonfire. 

Block parties — a notable St. Albert staple of warm weather and community togetherness — can also be a great way to facilitate introductions between households, and bolster safety within neighbourhoods. 

Ultimately, bridging the gap between ourselves and our neighbours might transform their idiosyncrasies from burdensome behaviour into a simple side-effect of proximity. 

We should be thankful for the patchwork of activity that forms our communities. If not perfect, the sights and sounds of our neighbours are a welcome sign of life, a marker of the good our co-existence can offer.