The first Christmas in my Westbrae neighborhood, I was completely taken aback when a neighbor shyly handed me a package of her home baked anise biscotti.
My husband and I had previously lived in the Berkeley hills where neighbors would routinely look th e other way when you tried to greet them; some were suing each other over property easement rights.
Imagine our continuing surprise all throughout that first Christmas week when we received a loaf of zucchni bread, butter balls, and sugar sprinkle cookie s from three other neighbors. My husband happily baked apple pies to reciprocate.
It all started with buttery treats, but our neighbors have slowly become a greater part of our lives. We give each other rides to the airport. We take care of each others c ats, gardens and chickens when away. We share bumper tomato crops. Most importantly, our neighbors provide a continuous ballast of friendship, company and support through difficult patches. Even when we don’t have direct interaction, it’s nice to be worki ng on your front garden along with everyone else.
How does it happen that one neighborhood functions as a community while another one is a disparate grouping of individuals tied together only by the geographic cluster of real estate. The most obvious and shallow explanation is income level. My Westbrae neighborhood is a moderate neighborhood neither rich nor poor. My former hills neighborhood was full of expensive real estate.
An adjoining neighbor routinely called the police to report my husband’s car for violating the 72-hour-parking law; they didn’t want a delapidated van in front of their million dollar property. These hill houses were sited for seclusion—fenced and gated in where possible. Few of the hill neighbors worked on their front yards inste ad hiring crews of laborers.
A co-worker told me he had a similar experience renting in the Presidio compared to renting in his current beloved Bernal Heights neighborhood. But surely there must be close knit rich neighborhoods as well; I once read an Op rah perspective where she gushed about her new neighbors just as much as I have done.
Regardless of cause, maybe just the act of giving and sharing sweet baked goodies triggers community. So dear reader, please give it a try this season. Take out a few s ticks of butter, bake away something sweet to surprise your neighbors.