Saturday, July 16, 2011

6 Ways to Really Get to Know Your Town… Whether You’re New to It or Not

 A Typical Picture of Renovation.
Yes, corporate FF and all - unfortunate but true.
 When relocating, adjusting
 to living in your new
 home, let alone a new
 city, takes longer than
 expected! When Randy
 and I were in the process
 of our move from out-of-
 state, friends who had
 experience in this arena
 advised us to be patient;
 we were told that to even
 start to feel settled and
 make new friends takes a
 solid two years. I
 remember doubting their
 long estimate at the time.
 But two years in, I kept
 telling others we had
 moved “just last year” -
 because it seemed we had barely arrived - before realizing how much time had actually passed! Now, over three years later, this place is finally starting to feel like home.

Once in your new ‘hood, you could hang at the nearest bar for social interaction - and there is certainly a time and place for that - but it is the least dynamic of options. A few things we started doing early and often were invaluable in truly acquainting us with our new setting:

1. Get to know your neighbors. My fellow native Phoenicians will sympathize with how challenging this can be. Born and raised in Phoenix, prior to moving I was accustomed to the cinder block walls that separate every property. Plus, partly due to the heat, people tend to drive directly into their garages at the end of the day. The walls and garages don’t make for very good neighborliness; you almost never see one another, let alone speak. As I have become an adult, though, I have increasingly realized how important and rewarding it is to be a good neighbor and how priceless good neighbors are! They were also an invaluable information resource for us new-in-towners.

2. Take a class. I have discovered my local community college, and am so glad I have! I went directly to a state university after high school, so never had the opportunity to be involved with a community college until I decided to take a few exploratory courses, with a career change in mind, shortly after arriving in town. The CC was a great place to start learning about local activist groups and non-profit organizations, and to meet a diverse cast of others from the community. Whether you are considering a career change yourself; want to add a certification to your resume; have always wondered about organic chemistry, Eastern European history, computer science or are simply determined to find out what this “Zumba” thing is all about, the classes are extremely affordable and the lifelong learning setting is invigorating.

3. Find free activities. Even if you aren’t strapped for cash like Randy and I were (and are!), picking up your local publication (i.e. Phoenix New Times, Illinois Times, etc.) at a coffee shop each week is totally worth the five minutes. You will discover listings of just about every uber-local event and establishment in town, and all sorts of free activities. By checking out free film series, art displays, open mic nights, etc., we not only saved the cash we would have spent going to the movies or a bar, but we became better acquainted with some of the subtle, quirky, subcultural vibes happening around town as well. Plus, just attempting to find the locations served as much-needed practice maneuvering the city!

Dressed up for Hoogland's Rocky Horror Show. Local theater,
and went with our super fun neighbors! (See Items #1 & #5.)

4. Connect with a non-profit. As busy as getting settled in to the new place will keep you, there will be more downtime than you expect. After relocating, all of the time once spent with friends and family is suddenly empty. This is a great opportunity to get involved as a volunteer with a cause or group you have always been passionate about. You will meet new, likeminded people and learn a ton about your town through the group’s mission statement, networking partners, target populations, etc.

5. Support local businesses. Even if your budget does not normally allow for dining out, you are going to have to for a week or two at least, depending upon the state of your new home. You can go to McDonald’s or T.G.I. Friday’s in any town, learn nothing, and support a faceless corporation in the process. Bo-ring (and even a little morally questionable). Supporting your local restaurants, coffee shops, markets and other businesses/vendors as frequently as possible helps keep your local economy strong and supports real people’s efforts and dreams. Plus, as the owners are frequently womanning the cash register, you will meet some key players in the community. And when you mention you are new in town, you are likely to receive all kinds of recommendations and behind-the-scenes information. Therefore, this piece of advice has a part two:
5b. Tell people you are new in town!

6. Check out spiritual communities. Most Americans have a religious affiliation, so narrowing down this sort of search is not likely to be difficult. But you don’t have to be religious to do this - Randy and I are not. When he was growing up, his mom would take him to various, widely diverse religious services for the cultural experiences. We haven’t done that yet, but I was curious about the Unitarian Universalist congregation, so Randy agreed to visit with me. It was such a refreshing experience, I would highly recommend that everyone visit their local UU community at least once. What we discovered: Unitarian Universalism has established a spiritual community welcoming individuals from every religion, belief system and orientation (including humanists, secular humanists, agnostics and atheists). The community fosters increased understanding and meaningful dialogue, celebrating the things we all have in common. In addition to meeting weekly, the congregations facilitate a huge variety of special interest breakout sessions throughout the week, including news junkie groups, Zen meditation sessions, cycling groups, yoga, quilting circles, book clubs, movie nights, environmentalist meetings, Christian bible studies, Atheist philosophy coffee chats, etc. Talk about opportunities to meet people! There is something for everyone. Attending may have been the single most personally valuable thing I have done as a new resident to my community.

The approaches we have taken to meeting our “new” town have resulted in seeing recurring faces all over the place. Recently, after spotting the same guy at nearly every film, non-profit event, concert and festival, I finally introduced myself. I am glad I did. John is very cool! (Of course I would think so - we apparently have all the same interests!) There are really neat things happening all around you. Start making connections. And have fun!

- Sarah

Our mantra on the road trip was "You don't know a place until you've been lost there."
So consider this the Unofficial Item #7: Explore. Get Lost.


Wife to one and Mom to another said...

When I read point 5 I couldn't help but scroll back up to verify that you are eating Taco Bell in the picture. What a faceless corporation! How could you compromise your morals? (note sarcasm...but only a hint of it, of course) As someone who has moved a couple times (internationally) I think these are some good tips! Well done.

Life Flipping said...

LOL! I was wondering if anyone would notice that! Touché :) Honestly, one of the downsides of living in a small-ish town is the limited hours of local/downtown restaurants; on Sundays, we are pretty much out of luck. I will also try to justify my occasional but consistent patronage of Taco Bell in a future post about vegetarianism ;)
- Sarah

Wife to one and Mom to another said...

You mean Taco Bell actually serves meat? I thought that was questionnable. :)

Life Flipping said...

Ha!Ha! I don't think there is any question that they serve animal products of SOME sort. I am pretty sure the issue was what parts their "beef" is actually comprised of. (Sorry to be icky.) Scary, right? :) Luckily, they also serve beans and rice and such!
- Sarah

Life Flipping said...

Or maybe that was just a rumor. Was it just that their meat has a high percentage of soy? I guess I don't really know!
- Sarah

Mattpenning said...

Most excellent article, Sarah. I suggest that you submit it to Illinois Times for publication. Really. This is one of those articles that I'll print to PDF and email to myself with tags embedded in the email, so I can search and find it later. I do that with all the "I can't lose this!" stuff.

Highly valuable information. Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

Studio Eccs said...


I am especially found of #7. Getting lost in a town really reveals its soul.

Life Flipping said...

Thank you, Matt! I am so pleased to hear someone found it useful. I hadn't considered the idea of checking in with Illinois Times... I will certainly consider it!

Good idea re: archiving tidbits you come across online, too! I just might adopt that habit myself.
- Sarah

Life Flipping said...

Randy, ONYD! Ha. Nonetheless, I had a great time getting lost in some 50+ towns with you :) And I agree - it does.
- Sarah