Social Street urges families and singles to connect in their neighborhoods.

Written by Chris Cutler

Did you grow up in a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else and the kids played together and the parents socialized together and hardly anyone moved away? If you grew up between the 1930s and 1980s, you probably did.

One of the biggest challenges of the 21 century is maintain the lively, close-knit neighborhoods that used to be central to the American way of life. Job-hopping and the moving that accompanies it is slowly turning our country into a series of blocks where neighbors pull their cars into the garage and close the door or rush down their apartment building hallways and slide into the door to avoid human contact.

Believe it or not, though, it’s the same all over the world.

Federico Bastiani, born in a small Italian town, felt lost when he moved to big-city Bologna. “I grew with the sense of belonging to a community. I never felt that when I moved to Bologna. It’s more hectic where people are always rushing… no greetings…nothing.” When he and his wife, Laurell, welcomed their first child, Matteo, Federico wanted to make a change. “I wanted to try to recreate that sense of community I had in my childhood.”

In September 2013, Federico announced that he was starting a Facebook page for the residents of his street, Via Fondazza. He posted fliers on the trash cans and pillars along the 400-meter street announcing Social Street. “It was a general message,” he says, “to use this closed Facebook group just to socialize without reason.” To his delight, about 35 people joined in the first few weeks. “I was very happy. It is not the quantity that makes Social Street a success but the quality of relationship.” More than 1100 of the street’s 2000 residents now belong to Social Street. The neighbors socialize, help each other out.

Word of Federico’s “experiment” got out, and people started asking him how to start their own Social Streets. Today, there are 419 Social Streets all over the world—Brazil, France, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Holland, and the United States. Courtney Berner, who started the first American branch in Wisconsin just seven months ago, says Social Street has changed her neighborhood.
“People are very excited to be connecting. There are some fun stories about people connecting with neighbors they have lived next to for years but had never met,” she says. Courtney adds that her neighborhood’s online message board is popular. “I would say that on average people post one-to-three items per week. Postings range from alerts (recent car break-ins, red fox sightings) to requests for help (help with child care, shoveling, jumper cables) to offers of free stuff (furniture, electronics).”

Federico says that each Social Street different in how it operates, but the idea is that there is no cost to anyone to belong. “We kept out the money,” he advises, “because Social Street is not a start-up or a business. The target is the sensation of belonging…to know your neighbors… the sense that if something happens to you, you are not alone.” Courtney agrees and adds, “For me personally, these types of interactions with neighbors deeply enrich my day-to-day life and my sense of belonging in a place.”

Federico is happy that Social Street is growing. “Perhaps,” he asked me, “it’s time for a Social Street in Las Vegas?”

For information on starting your own Social Street, visit socialstreet.it (Click on the British flag for English.), or contact Federico or Luigi Nardacchione at info@socialstreet.it. (They speak English.)