Neighborliness: Its Limits and Its Potential

Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. (Image via  “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” )

Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. (Image via “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)

Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before (and may never do again). I’m posting on the blog the content from this morning’s email newsletter. The reason I’m doing this is because we’ve completely changed the format of our newsletter. It used to be a digest of our own new content. Now we send out a highly curated list of seven items that we’ve come across in the previous week that we think will be interesting, inspiring, and valuable for our readers.

Of course, the week I chose to do this, the email ends up being about 20 percent longer than usual. But it will give you an example of what we’re trying to accomplish. If you’re interested in subscribing to our Monday morning newsletter, there is an easy form down below.

Happy Monday!


I’m writing the first draft of this email on a typewriter. Last night my family and I watched the charming documentary California Typewriter, about a struggling typewriter repair shop in Berkeley, California and the community of people (including Tom Hanks, John Mayer, the late Sam Shepherd, and the historian David McCullough) who are passionate about these machines. As soon as the film was over my oldest daughter sat down at my Royal Quiet De Luxe and spent an hour writing a short story. Even as I type this the next morning, both my daughters are queueing up for their turn. I’d better write fast.

Whatever tools you need for work — computer, typewriter, a pencil or pen, etc. — may they be not only productive but also a pleasure to use.

Here are seven items that came over the transom last week that we felt worth sharing:

  1. My favorite writer, Wendell Berry, gave a wide-ranging interview with The New Yorker. One passage I keep coming back to — one especially relevant to those of us who devote ourselves to loving our communities — is Berry's suggestion that there is “a limit to effective neighborliness.” Referencing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he says, “You might be able to deal with one person hurt and lying beside the road, but you alone can’t deal with everybody who has fallen among thieves.” (By the way, Berry wrote a now-famous piece on why he won’t buy a computer. Also, did you know I co-host a podcast about Wendell Berry? We’re prepping now for Season Two.)

  2. Another hero of mine, Mister Rogers, is the subject of an upcoming biopic starring Tom Hanks. The trailer came out today, and it looks great. Last week I started listening to a brand new Fred Rogers tribute podcast.

  3. I loved this podcast episode about Andy Diaz and Urban Acres. Diaz and his family live in a low-income neighborhood in Peoria that recently lost its only supermarket. Rather than focusing his energy on luring another big-chain grocery store to the Near North Side using petitions and risky tax incentives, Diaz’s family started turning vacant lots into mini-farms. They’ve also purchased a building they’re converting into a commissary that will support multiple food vendors. Urban Acres is a testament the power of incremental development: “We don’t need more $1 million heroes to save Peoria,” Diaz says. "We need more $1,000 heroes.” I was also touched by how Urban Acres was partially inspired by Diaz’s desire to simply spend more time with his retired father.

  4. A short but inspiring read: my friend Steve MacDouell’s wonderful blog post about micro-neighbourliness. (I’ve preserved his Canadian spelling.) “While big stories will get most of the attention — and don’t get me wrong, we need those stories, too — beautiful, disarming things are happening through small acts of neighbourliness.”

  5. From SSIR, this article describes “ecosystem investing.” Ecosystem investing acknowledges that funders are part of a broader, more complex community of care. This requires a funding approach that is more transformational than transactional, thinks longterm, and is inherently less predictable. While the article is geared primarily toward funders, it’s useful for those of us on the ground too. We need to shift our own approaches from the transactional to the relational, from the isolated to the interconnected, from the competitive to the collaborative, etc.

  6. Too many nonprofits make the mistake of only emailing their supporters when they are promoting an event or asking for money. They are missing out on opportunities to tell stories and deepen engagement. NTEN has ideas for seven other emails nonprofits should consider sending to supporters. “Each of them is designed to help you build relationships, gather more support, and show your impact in the world.”

  7. A huge swath of the country experienced extreme heat during the first part of July, including the deadly “heat dome” that settled over the Eastern United States last week. This has led a few news outlets to call for more shade. Nolan Gray describes how cities in hot weather climates used to be designed to shield people from the sun and trap cool air. Not so in today’s “modern Sun Belt metros,” with “houses sitting squat and far back from the street, and most commercial spaces sitting behind a veritable desert of parking.” Gray says we have essentially criminalized shade through our land-use regulations and the way we design our public spaces, Similarly, an older article from Fast Company — reposted on social to coincide with the heat wave — suggests cities should think about trees, including shade trees, as “public health infrastructure.”

Last week on the blog I started a four-part series on mission, vision, and core values statements. In the first post, I describe how mission, vision, and core values are distinct from one another and yet inextricably linked too. Oh, and I tell a parable about a 19th-century New England seaport. Get transported here.

Wouldn’t you know it? This email ended up being longer than usual. Time to give these girls a chance at the typewriter.

Have a great week!


John Pattison