I went to a Christmas party last night, hosted by a neighbor in my condo complex. Many other neighbors joined in the revelry and I began thinking of the joys of living in a condo, or at least this condo. I have friends who own houses, and aside from the headaches of maintaining houses, several of these friends have had problems with neighbors. This seems ironic as the property boundaries between houses and condos greatly differ. House owners have much stronger structural and physical space from their neighbors and yet conflicts still come up. For example, one friend is seeking legal counsel over a property line dispute. Another house owner shares a fence with a neighbor and when a recent storm damaged the fence, a huge hassle erupted around who was going to pay for it. Most of all, I hear house owners complain about not knowing their neighbors. It seems that many people buy houses for space and privacy. But if these divisions also contribute to isolation and alienation.
Conversely, the relationships between my own condo neighbors, at least on the surface, seem exceedingly cordial. When someone is on vacation, we collect their mail, or water their plants. We drive each other to doctors’ appointments and buy their kids’ girl scout cookies. Our lives are also devoid of a lot of stress, since our HOA deals with all the outside maintenance.
Condo life has made me think much about suburban sprawl. So many single-family houses seem like such an unnecessary blight on the planet. Simpler and more communal living is not only ecologically beneficial, it can also can contribute to people’s mental health. Of course, if people live in close proximity, community rules need to be enforced. I am fortunate, as that is the case in my own condo. We have a strong HOA and things like excess noise, smoking on the premises and dumpster violations are not tolerated.
Perhaps the greatest thing that unites my neighbors is their pets. Dog owners need to walk their dogs a couple times a day, so dogs and owners often congregate in the next-door park. People stand around or sit on park benches where they commiserate about dogs or whatever else comes up. I often join these gatherings. I’ve met many new friends during these encounters and I’ve experienced the pleasure of petting and appreciating dogs without the responsibility of owning one.
Cats also serve to unite our neighbors. Many cats inhabit this complex and they frequently visit residents who aren’t their owners – especially if these residents give out treats. When I spoke to a neighbor at the party last night, she shared intimate knowledge of every cat in the complex, who owned the cat, and specific details of each cat’s personality. I told her about Nomad, and his recent visits to my home. My neighbor knew Nomad well and she said that it was unusual that Nomad took treats from me. She said he doesn’t do that for anyone else but his owner. I felt somewhat honored and also hopeful that Nomad might continue his visits, which at this point are now occurring on a daily basis. Nomad not only takes treats from me, he naps on my couch, lets me pet him, and seems exceedingly comfortable and at home in my place