By Chelsea Clarkson and Allison Pinto in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune
With the recent death of Andrea Rody, our community has lost an everyday community changemaker. We are touched by the way in which her neighbors have been coming forth to celebrate her memory, and as fellow residents of the broader Sarasota County community, we want to acknowledge the significance of her contributions as a neighbor, too.
Ms. Rody took it upon herself to care for her own home community. She joined other neighbors in the simple act of beautifying their surroundings, by tending to their own yards and also by occasionally mowing the shared space of the neighborhood when it needed attention. It is clear that her neighbors appreciated the work that Ms. Rody did and recognized how it contributed to neighborly spirit.
In a recent national study conducted by the Knight Foundation called "Soul of the Community," it was revealed that attachment to the place where we live is profoundly affected by the following three qualities: "openness," or the welcoming way in which neighbors treat one another; "social offerings," such as local meet-ups; and "aesthetics," or the physical beauty of the area. In other words, we are more likely to feel attached to the communities in which we live when there is a naturally occurring sense of neighborliness, when there are spaces in which to regularly convene and when our physical surroundings are tended to with care.
This means that taking the time to look after shared spaces within one's own neighborhood, as Ms. Rody did, is precisely the kind of action that can lead to community attachment. When people feel attached to their home community, they are more likely to feel connected and committed to the place in which they live. It is within communities like these that neighbors share their skills for the sake of personal and collective benefit, which ultimately contributes to the economic thriving of the area, as well as other aspects of community well-being.
Ms. Rody has been described by her own neighbors as someone who was warm, helpful and friendly. That is noteworthy, especially these days when so many people are connected to others through work or other networks but may not even know the names of their next door neighbors.
Robert Putnam describes the importance of social relationships among community members in terms of "social capital." Ms. Rody was undoubtedly generating social capital with her fellow neighbors.
Tending to one's surroundings, getting to know one's neighbors and being friendly are simple acts that can have lasting effects, both at the neighborhood scale and within the community as a whole. When people are neighborly like Ms. Rody, a sense of healthy abundance can be generated. As neighbors fall in love with their immediate communities, it becomes more natural to rebuild the tradition of looking out for one another and the shared physical space in which they live.