Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

O Shopper Columns


Recently, it dawned on me that my neighborhood resembles a sort of ghost town. Obviously, people live here- lawns are mowed, shrubs manicured and houses are well-kept- but they're rarely seen.

On weekdays, I sometimes drive past my next-door neighbor and her friend on their morning walk. My drive home often coincides with a neighborhood boy playing in his parent's front yard. A woman from four doors down walks her large dog by our house some evenings. An older gentleman from several blocks away walks by with his tiny dog some mornings. But my neighbors and I only seem to meet in passing; our connections consist of half-hearted little waves and quick smiles. Because front porches are things of the past, neighbors aren't visible in the way they once were.

I'm not alone in feeling that I live among people I don't really know. A 2017 Pew Poll found that only about four in ten Americans know some or all of their neighbors, while fewer than five in ten say that they trust them.

A 2017 Pew Poll found that
only about four in ten Americans
know some or all of their neighbors

Four years ago, Houston mother-of-four, Kristin Schell, suddenly realized that she didn't know her neighbors by name; she identified them by their clothing. There was the neighbor who always wore red, and the woman who went for daily walks in yoga pants. "We would wave and give a friendly "Hi,' but garage doors would go up, garage doors would go down, and people would disappear inside," she recalls.

Attempts to connect with neighbors through dinner parties, picnics and book clubs fell through: preparations required too much time, and scheduling was a nightmare. What was needed was something that could fit effortlessly into the fabric of daily life. Kristin asked herself: "What if we were to take ordinary activities- things we're already doing inside- and move them into the front yard? Just live in a more visible way?"

Moving her patio picnic table into her front yard, Kristin painted it an eye-catching shade of turquoise. She and her kids brought much of their daily routine outside to the table: meals, homework, reading, playing games, and simply relaxing together. Neighbors out for a walk or jog initially waved in passing; then slowed down to speak; then stopped to sit and talk for a few minutes. Names were learned; common interests were discovered; friendships were born.

Soon turquoise picnic tables began appearing throughout the neighborhood, and spending time with neighbors became a part of daily life. These folks started identifying themselves by a new name: Front Yard People. In 2017, Kristin published an account of her experiences. Entitled, The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard, the book sparked a nationwide movement of Front Yard People. These folks are transforming their neighborhoods into energetic communities where people genuinely connect with one another.

If our neighborhoods seem like empty ghost towns, a turquoise table in the front yard just might be the answer. Or if we're lucky enough to have a front porch, maybe we could do a bit more of our living there. Perhaps we could all benefit by becoming Front Yard People.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.