Michelle Colussi: Building Resilient Neighbourhoods


My husband is the real connector on our street. Every time he sees somebody, he says, “Hey neighbor, how are you doing?” When he comes home, he often sits on our front step and neighbours will walk by and then come for a chat. And before you know it, they’re being offered a refreshment and then staying for dinner.

He cultivates those connections because of who he is, but decades ago this type of connection was just called being a good neighbour. You lived on a street and people knew each other and would help each other.

But today, lots of people, including myself, get home and head to the back deck because we want some quiet time. There are lots of neighbours who are unable to connect for other reasons—either they’re too shy or stressed, they may have language barriers or mobility challenges or mental health challenges.

The foundation of my work with Building Resilient Neighbourhoods (BRN) is the idea that if we can strengthen connection between neighbours, either at a street level or within buildings, then neighbours will become a mutual support for each other. We encourage a sense of agency and help citizens take charge of things and be instrumental in improving the quality of life for themselves and their neighbours. Everybody needs help sometimes, and everybody can also be a helper and contribute in a variety of ways at different times in their life.

People tell us all the time “I’ve lived on the same street for 15 years. And I’ll say ‘hi,’ I’ll wave, and I’ll say ‘good morning’ to my neighbour but we’ve never actually had a conversation. And, until we made an effort to talk to each other, we had no idea we had so much in common.”

By connecting and exploring commonalities, suddenly a street or a building comes alive, and neighbours are hosting picnics, building a shared chicken coop and they’ve got all kinds of other initiatives that they’re working on together to improve life on their street. One could suggest that neighbours who know each other build more resilient neighbourhoods.

Now, BRN is focused on Connect and Prepare, which is very specific to helping groups of neighbours prepare for emergencies. Neighbours who already have a relationship are much better equipped to respond to real-time emergencies because the relationship’s already there and they know a little bit about each other. So, you’ll know if there’s a person on your street who has mobility issues, and that they are going to trust you when you knock on their door to offer help.

The next time you see your neighbour and offer a smile, a wave, or a hello, why not take the next step? Be like my husband, ask your neighbour how they are doing and talk to them about their favourite music, food, garden, restaurant or anything else that comes to mind. Who knows, you may find that the best place in your whole neighbourhood is at your front door.

Learn more at resilientneighbourhoods.ca.