2. Plan monthly neighborhood events. Annual picnics and block parties are nice, but they generally don't provide traction for strong relationships to develop. The more frequent the event, the better you'll get to know people. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, residents of one neighborhood have taken turns hosting "Wednesdays on the Porch” for eight years. The porch is an especially nice place to gather because the hosts don't have to clean up the house! Also, try school-oriented celebrations, such as a back-to-school bike parade for kids, maybe with a town fire truck in the lead; Christmas caroling for the holidays; a progressive New Year's Eve celebration at five or six neighbors' homes (so no one has to drive after celebrating); and, when the weather warms up, a backyard barbecue where everyone pitches in.
3. Think beyond the backyard. Encourage residents to engage in some kind of front yard activity to get people out and visible to passers-by. Try to shift from typical backyard activities to the front yard: vegetable and flower gardens, a swing set or climbing toy, badminton set, even just place a couple of lawn chairs in front of the house.
4. Use online services. Websites such as i-Neighbors.org or Meettheneighbors.org allow neighbors to share news virtually. They can be helpful, but should complement — not replace — face-to-face interaction.
5. Consider shared property. In some neighborhoods, residents pool funds to create a communal gathering spot. You might consider converting an empty lot into a small park or playground — or even just removing a fence or two so you and your neighbors can create a joint vegetable garden. Trust me: I've learned from experience that these small gestures can reap large rewards.
Peter Lovenheim is the author of the book In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.