We often rattle on about ideas that we develop within our industry, but I often find more value in hearing candid conversations from residents themselves. Today I found a conversation that asked, "Best way to introduce myself to neighbors?" This question was actually posed in regards to a single family development, and most responses had something to do with "while out working on the lawn..." Although this topic isn't specifically about apartment parties or resident events specifically, I think it is important to delve into the mechanics of how people interact, cross paths, and develop relationships, whether it is at a party or not.
Let's dig into this question, and how their answers in single family developments could impact our multifamily communities. For the moment, let's assume that the single family development had no yards or other outside areas to hang out, meet, etc. This scenario would actually be quite similar to a garden-style apartment community. While our communities have gathering spots like the community pool or gym, most of the buildings are stand-along structures that just have adjacent parking strips. So a resident most often simply gets out of his/her car, walks up to the door, and enters the apartment. So if a single family neighborhood didn't have any yards/etc, it would be similar, but potentially even worse, as the front doors would be spaced apart rather than together as in many multifamily buildings. So to boil this down, one of the main social elements for single family communities, at least for adults, is working on the lawn, which gives them an opportunity and a common reference point. They may not know anything else about their neighbor, but they can at least talk about lack of rain, lawn equipment, and lawn care in general. Of course, apartment communities often lack this outdoor activity to facilitate this social interaction.
But it isn't just the lack of a yard... Another element at play is a simple one for many residents: "why bother?" This is where our high turnover hurts us. If someone owns a home, they will be there for years, maybe decades. But a renter is gone in probably less than two. So even if we had the equivalent of a lawn to work on, would our residents even bother striking up a conversation?
The last element that builds into this social interaction is the ownership aspect. Let's take an example where you borrow a friend's car, and a person with the same car ends up parking next to you. They might chat with you about the car, such as if you have had similar quirks or how well you like it. But since it isn't your car, you'll probably feel awkward and explain that it really isn't your car. In many ways, that's how some renters feel about their community - it isn't their community, they are just renting the apartment. So there might be less of a common denominator for two residents to build upon.
I wish I could give some magic option for apartment communities to implement to create this opportunity for our residents, but I'm honestly not sure at this point. I think the first big step is to start looking at social interaction as a science, and examine how people interact in different environments. For example, what causes two people to stop and talk, versus just give a nod and keep on walking? Once we do that, we can start developing more effective communal environments, developing an ownership mentality, and developing a cure to those residents who ask themselves, "why bother?"