6 Signs You’re in a Friendly, Feel-Good Neighborhood

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Houses in a neighborhood
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What are the signs that attract us to some neighborhoods, to places where we imagine we’d feel welcome and would like to live?

Researchers at the University of Buffalo recently dug into that question. They published a study analyzing how a home’s front garden, porch or yard conveys a sense of community. It investigated the “public–private front yard interface” and its effect on the satisfaction and sense of place for people in the surrounding neighborhood.

The researchers focused on a celebrated neighborhood that is conveniently near their campus: Elmwood Village in Buffalo, New York. In 2007, this community was named by the American Planning Association as one of “10 Great Neighborhoods in America.”

For their study, scholars examined nearly 1,000 front yards, two of the study authors explain in a recent article in The Conversation. The researchers wanted to know what makes Elmwood Village special, writing:

“For decades, psychological, geographical and design research has linked sense of place to happier neighborhood residents and stronger ties among neighbors.”

The rest of us can learn from this research. Keep reading to see which features in Elmwood Village’s yards and gardens let visitors and residents know that this is a welcoming place.

1. Gardens and plants

Potted plants
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Much is made of how gardens and yards affect a home’s so-called curb appeal. But that’s largely a real estate term. It conveys how an attractive exterior can affect a home’s market value. It doesn’t describe the pleasure that even the smallest garden spaces give to those who live nearby.

Container gardens, planters, potted plants and mini gardens squeezed into small front yards offer a chance to enjoy beauty and create connections with the natural world.

2. Showcasing hobbies

Little free library in the front yard of a home
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The researchers didn’t find garden gnomes or Little Free Libraries in Elmwood Village. Still, they point to these small showcases for how they can invite connections and foster friendly outreach among neighbors.

3. Self-expression

House with U.S. flag
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Signs of our allegiances — to favorite sports teams and political parties and candidates — tell the world something about who we are and that we belong.

The study authors write:

“Whether they proudly displayed Buffalo Bills flags or simply had a couple of flower pots on their front porch, residents who expressed themselves with items in front of their house reported feeling a greater sense of place.”

4. Inviting spaces

Homeowners sitting in front of their house
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There’s a simple sweetness when you see a porch swing, a couple of comfy outdoor chairs or a garden bench as you walk past a neighbor’s home.

It can be even sweeter when the chairs are occupied and you can say hello or strike up a conversation.

The research points out how these neighborly settings contribute to neighborhood cohesion.

5. Open spaces

Traditional style residential house in north Florida with large yard
Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock.com

Interestingly, “no trespassing” and “private property” signs don’t make people feel put off when they encounter them in a neighbor’s yard.

But physical barriers send a different message. Fences and hedges, the research finds, make a neighborhood less welcoming.

6. Children’s toys

girl playing with water and sponge outside
Irina Wilhauk / Shutterstock.com

Children’s toys seem to send several signals to passers-by. They tell an unspoken story of safety, that children are present, are protected and play here with others from the neighborhood. Toys left out are indications, too, that the playthings won’t be stolen.

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