It’s been a while since I looked for a neighborhood to move into. Recently two homes sold on our block. As two longtime families leave Marengo, we are making space for the new neighbors and the change that will be coming to our south end of town. 

If someone, house hunting, asked me for advice on finding a good neighborhood, beyond the traditional transportation, affordability, schools, commute time, economic development projects and crime, there are a few things I would tell them to look for. Here are a few clues that they would be buying into a neighborhood that would suit me:

1. Signs of families

a. Sidewalk chalk art. This temporary art is almost exclusively made by excellent little people under the guidance of engaged parents. Likely, where there is sidewalk art, the streets are safe, people care about being outside and are probably good, decent people. 

b. Lawn chairs (or a picnic table) in front of the house. Score. This shows people are interested in meeting one another, are friendly and want to be connected. 

c. Child lawnmower, wagon, cozy coupe or scooter parked on the front lawn. Something really fun is happening at a house like this, and it is likely full of love. The people who live there are going to be good neighbors. 

d. Nerf gun bullets. Archeologists look for bones while they hike, home buyers should look for these when they walk the blocks of a neighborhood. They might be chopped by a lawnmower, but this is a sign of child organization, creativity and teamwork. For years, our south side Quartermaster Lee has absorbed the nerf supplies and anywhere from 3-20 kids will play together. 

2. Communication and community

a. Clubs and groups for citizens. All the best neighborhoods in America have civic clubs like Kiwanis and Lions clubs; they have youth citizenship like Girl Scouts, Cub & Boy Scouts, youth sports, Historical Society, Senior Citizen Club, tot groups, and library meet ups. 

b. Walkability. Look for people walking dogs, riding bikes, jogging. These are the eyes and ears of a community. For kids, walkability is being able to walk for a bag of chips and a slurpie or soda. Bonus if you can walk to a grocery store, dollar store, a place to eat, and an activity. 

c. Community news and social media. It isn’t a coincidence that the best towns to in America have hyper-local newspapers. Now with social media like Facebook, ordinary people and elected officials can air their thoughts at any moment. See if people communicate kindly, respectfully, and create a safe place to share opinions. Look for the positive communicators; they tend to communicate respectfully and are safe people to trust in town.

3. Arts and entertainment. 

a. Festivals and community events. The best neighborhoods have ways to get together for big events or block parties, but visiting neighboring communities is a good place to go too.

b. Arts. The arts bring a community together. Whether through theater, music, singing, dancing, painting, etc., arts improve a community’s well-being and acceptance. 

4. Cleanliness

a. Windows, lawns and parks. If the environment is broken and uncared for, likely the neighborhood is broken and uncared for.

b. Litter and garbage. Every piece I see hurts me a little bit. Plus it only attracts more litter, so I notice when there is little or none, when there are garbage cans available and when recycling is offered.

Certainly there are hundreds of other indicators to look for in a healthy community. This is just my list, a few things I am glad to have in my neighborhood. 

Although saying “goodbye” to great neighbors is sad, I trust that our new neighbors are buying on our block because they like our neighborhood, even if they can’t quite put their finger on it. Maybe my welcome gift will include sidewalk chalk and a subscription to the Review because, after all, good people make good neighbors.