New Yorkers are resilient, this much we know. But optimistic? Well, that feels more like a west coast kind of thing. And here’s something else that we’re not particularly known for: neighborly love. Because let’s be honest, most of us don’t even know our neighbors’ names (you know, beyond “guy who likes to burn his toast every morning”), let alone feel comfortable enough to borrow a cup of sugar.
Yet during this pandemic, I’m feeling optimistic about the bonds I’ve formed with my neighbors. Pre-pandemic, we might have exchanged pleasantries while taking out the trash or nodded to each other at the grocery store. But once we went into lockdown, and my neighbors were basically the only people I would see all day (or week!), we went from a casual “Hey” every so often to checking in on the daily about how the other was feeling, lamenting over the lack of childcare and—lately—even dreaming of getting the hell out of the city and forming our own commune upstate. In fact, we’ve gotten to know the family next door so much that when they recently went out of town for a couple of weeks, they gave us a spare key to their place (which is basically the New York neighbor equivalent of a marriage proposal). And I’m not the only one feeling the neighborly love.
Stoops have become community hotspots. Locals are singing outside of their windows and balconies to rapturous applause. Notice boards are filled with offers to help elderly and vulnerable populations.
“My neighbors are like my only friends now,” one Williamsburg resident tells us.
This is partly because, well, most of us are home all the damn time. And while you used to be able to get away with avoiding eye contact with “listens to Chaka Khan at full-volume every morning” down the hall when you were crossing paths just once a week, now that you’re both at home all day and night, it’s much harder to pretend like the other doesn’t exist.
For one Upper West Side resident, it started with mutual annoyance over a failed elevator inspection but quickly led to something more. “Now we swap recipes, compare running routes and recommend restaurants to each other,” she explains.
Another likely explanation for these new bonds? We’re craving contact now more than ever. While the extent of our social interactions has been limited, our needs have not. There’s the sense of all of us being in this together. It doesn’t matter what your job is or your decor style or whether you like to binge the same shows—we can all relate to the fact that we’re all just trying to do our best to get through the day. “We have this new baseline, this collective, emotional thing to discuss now—it’s way more intimate than what to do with recycling,” one New Yorker tells us.
It’s easy to feel isolated right now, but I’m hopeful that by coming together (while staying six feet apart, that is), we’ll be able to weather this storm.
“My 70-year-old neighbor has become my gardening mother,” one Kensington resident tells us. “She helps me with my flower boxes and tough-loves me when I'm doing bad things to my peonies.” Hey, we’re still New Yorkers.