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The Home Team: In an Age of Virtual Niches, In Praise of Opening Doors to Unfamiliar Neighbors

I’ve never had a door that wasn’t next to someone else’s. Growing up, my bedroom was nearest to my sister’s; after that, I left home for college and dorm life, then greeted adulthood with successive apartments in the city. Chicago, Portland, then Brooklyn—with each move, I gained more neighbors on each side.

That’s why it is particularly odd how rarely I have known any of the people who surrounded me, even though sometimes we had only a paper-thin wall between us. I’ve overheard strange sounds and extremely personal conversations, but never knew much more than my neighbors’ first names. An awful admission: While living in Portland, I knew my neighbor’s dog’s name, but not hers.

Initially, I considered this ignorance about my neighbors’ lives a form of respect for their privacy. It’s only in hindsight that I realize I have failed at neighborly conduct for the past 10 years, though I’ve found a likely scapegoat: doors. Thinking back to the last time I had an authentic rapport with those living near me, it was in college, when it was common practice to keep our doors propped open during the day. An open door is a clear signal: It is an invitation, communicating willingness and availability.

The internet lets us form social lives from a worldwide network. This has its benefits, but I’m beginning to believe there is a profundity, and possibly a necessity, to re-address local concerns. It’s healthy to be forced to reckon with people with whom you have very little in common, other than where you have opted to live—the choice that binds you to one another in a small way. In this age of niches, highly specific interests, and long tails, it’s good to bump into people who might not share the same mental furniture, but do share the same floor plan. It expands your heart and mind, and puts you on the same team: the home team.

We asked sometime collaborator Frank Chimero to create something each of us could take into the real world to make Neighborday come alive. You'll find the Neighborday poster Frank made (above) in the current print issue of GOOD. Pull it out and attach it to your door.

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