Good Neighbors on the North Shore

Good fences make good neighbors and good neighbors invite you to hop on over.

My friend bought a home where the fence had a little window built in by the previous owner so the neighbors could talk through it and “pass a cup of sugar, a roll of toilet paper, or a martini when needed.” The North Shore is rich with such legend of good neighbors.

Recollecting her Winnetka childhood, another friend described how every day she and her friends would hop off the bus at 3 p.m. and wander down their block to find all the moms in neighboring driveways sharing an afternoon cocktail. “They’re still some of my mom’s best friends,” she marvels. The women have long moved from that street but the bonds between them remain.

In Northbrook, a plastic pink flamingo adorns the lawn of the family willing to host cocktails for their neighborhood that evening. At the end of a busy day, families scan the block looking for the beacon signaling the “happy hour home.” I’m not from Northbrook, but sometimes I wander their streets, hunting the pink flamingo’s promised nectars.

You don’t have to be a big drinker to be a good neighbor. In Kenilworth, one neighborhood holds an annual street-wide yard sale. They share the cost of advertising, then drag their wares out to the lawn the morning of the event, reaping profits as buyers arrive by the van-full. There’s always a neighbor to help make change or to share some word of mouth advertising: “No, we don’t have any baby stuff, but try the big brick house on the corner.” Occasionally they end up with each other’s junk, but I’ve heard of far more nefarious swapping in other neighborhoods.

In my neighborhood the annual summer block party brings all generations together. Last year one neighbor arranged for a fire truck to come so the kids could climb in and receive plastic fire hats and badges. Though his boys had long outgrown this stage, he stood by the truck all day telling stories of his own sons’ youth. I love knowing that my neighbors are a fun group of people, but I cherish knowing how they value their families.

Further down the street, a couple in the Glen serves hotdogs in their front yard every Halloween. Originally they rented a steamer, but eventually they purchased one as their legend grew. Grateful parents bring their kids forth for a non-sugary treat and share the excitement of the day. This year they put out a “tip jar”—not for all the hotdogs and condiments they provide, but collecting funds for local children’s hospitals.

The golden rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” but I wonder if we might solve the housing crisis with a little advertising about “neighbors, neighbors, neighbors.”