At age 7, when I had to be hospitalized in the middle of the night for a particularly distressing stomachache, my parents had no choice but to leave my older brother in the care of our neighbors. Even so, there was no hesitation in making that decision; our neighbors had been our friends since we moved into the condominium and my brother was comfortable being left under their supervision. My recovery took a couple of days and between making the multiple visits between our home and the hospital, my parents were stressed out. I still remember our neighbors bringing my brother to visit me along with Tupperware boxes filled with home-cooked food for our family. The kindness of their gesture and the closeness we have shared with all of our neighbors my whole life meant I was surprised when a perspective article in the Boston Globe Magazine claimed that “we don’t know our neighbors anymore.”
The author of the article writes about her encounters, or lack thereof, with her neighbors in Dorchester where the houses are stand-alone. Granted, my positive experiences with my neighbors have existed in a condominium setting, where you are likely to run into them in the hallway or on the elevator. Furthermore, I suppose cultural factors have to be taken into consideration when I compare my level of contact with the people in my residential community to hers. My homeland, India, and the country I grew up in, Singapore, both are Asian countries which emphasize the importance of social harmony and the collective well-being of a community. For example, most Indian television shows and movies depict their characters going over to their neighbors’ at any time of the day to ask for a cup of sugar. This little detail highlights the level of intimacy between Indian neighbors. Regardless of these differences, when I arrived to Boston in my freshman year, I found that the social cohesiveness the author claims is now lost is actually alive and thriving in the context of university housing.
Warren Towers represents a far more crowded version of the condominium I live in back in Singapore, but a group of freshman squeezed into one floor can still be compared to neighbors in a street filled with a row of houses. I’m not going to lie, the communal bathrooms played a major role in solidifying the united front of our floor. In some ways, we were forced to communicate and engage with everyone on a daily basis. People felt free to go over to each others’ rooms at odd hours of the night for some late night snacks and the wee hours of the morning for last-minute printing.
Now, as a senior, I live in an on-campus apartment, and I understand the author’s viewpoint about people being more withdrawn. My interaction with my current neighbors is limited to a friendly nod when I see them on my way in or out. Even so, I wouldn’t say that the current generation makes no effort to stay in touch with our neighbors. University housing has ensured that people communicate with those living around them, in turn safeguarding the sense of community that is crucial in today’s world.