Combating Loneliness in Italy with “Social Streets”
A father of one was tired of seeing his son play alone in their neighborhood. Although his city of Bologna, Italy had a high density of residents, they did not know each other and their streets were not being used as places of gathering and connection. So he decided to do something simple. He created a basic Facebook group to connect with just the people on his street. The goal was not to make more virtual friends on social media, but to connect real people in real time in his own neighborhood. He put out some posters and a few people signed up.
It was the start of something special.
The idea of “Social Streets” has taken off. Today there are more than 470 Social Street groups around the world (with the vast majority in Italy) helping neighbors to re-connect in their place. The goal of these groups is not big size, but rather close proximity and a sense of interconnection. There is no central leader, no fees, and no big master plan. Yet through the initiative some amazing things have happened.
One Social Street in Italy shares photos of their terraces not normally visible from the street and welcomed others to join in. Another group began sharing goods with each other. Another Social Street found a love for live music. Still another has been a hub for new and intentional friendships.
One of the discoveries these Social Street groups have made is that in the midst of giving away things, car pooling to concerts, or planning meals together, they found something else: mutual trust. They are more likely to share and receive advice and help from a neighbor because they are no longer strangers, but people they know will be on their side. The sharing culture that is emerging in the Social Streets movement in Italy is revealing a new economy that did not exist before. Between neighbors a new kind of exchange has developed, one that connects people together in a way that money transactions alone simply cannot.
What would it look like to start a Social Street where you live? Could you start a Facebook group that is specific to your street? Are there other ways to create a special identity for your neighborhood? What would happen if people in your community met together, shared what they had, knew each other’s names and built a new sense of mutual trust and appreciation?
Changing our town or city for the better is not the work of experts. It is in our hands to create a sharing culture that draws us into our neighborhoods. When we choose to love our streets, the story of our community comes to life. You are part of that emerging story. What will happen next?
Top image: The street of Bologna, Italy. Image credit.
About the Author
Dr. Preston Pouteaux is a beekeeper, neighborhood enthusiast and pastor at Lake Ridge Community Church. He is an engaging speaker, writer, and curator of conversations about faith and neighbourhoods. He studied at Covenant Bible College, Briercrest College, Regent College, Tyndale Seminary, and Jerusalem University College in Israel. He is the author of Imago Dei to Missio Dei [VantagePoint3] and the award-winning author of The Bees of Rainbow Falls: Finding Faith, Imagination, and Delight in Your Neighbourhood [Urban Loft Publishers]. Since 2015 his column, Into the Neighbourhood, has been printed over two millions times in weekly newspapers. Preston lives in Chestermere, Alberta, with his wife Kelly, their daughters Scotia and Ivy, and a few thousand honeybees. You can connect with Preston on Twitter and on his website.