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How We Build Community in Montclair

Earlier this month, I was on Facebook and noticed a post on the “Montclair Watercooler” page from a woman about to move to town. She asked what were people’s favorite way to be involved in the community. This woman's story was similar story to many of my clients': she grew up in a close-knit city community, hadn’t been able to find that same feeling in other NJ suburbs, commutes into the city for work, and hadn’t yet started a family.

The Montclair Watercooler is an online community group where members can ask for advice, recommendations, or guidance about all things local. By the time I’d come upon this post, there were nearly 100 responses.

I wasn’t super surprised by the suggestions. People pointed her toward running clubs, volunteer opportunities with music organizations like Montclair Jazz Festival or Outpost in the Burbs, or classes at the Adult School. A few suggested joining The Study Hall Gang, a Friday night social gathering started a few years ago by a husband and wife looking to meet people, which has grown into a 250-member friend group. 

There were invitations to join a local women’s group, a kickball league, and the YMCA. The library and art museum were popular suggestions, as was the Farmer’s Market, which usually hosts live music and has become The Saturday Morning Place to Go. 

One commenter said her neighborhood does a Wine O’clock on warm Friday evenings. (That sounds pretty fun!)

What did surprise me about the comments was something altogether separate from the suggestions themselves: namely, the community building that was happening right on the thread. People were reading the suggestions and thanking each other for telling them things they never knew about. Someone who lived in the poster’s neighborhood suggested they meet and hang out. In fact, people all over the thread were inviting each other to things left and right. 

One person suggested to the poster, “Strike up a conversation everywhere you go,” and I thought, “Yes! Montclair is absolutely a place where you can do that!”

I, of course, think we are more able to connect with each other here in Montclair because we have ample opportunities to walk the town. Without the constant barricade of a car enclosing us, we are naturally more open to meeting each other. 

The whole post reminded me of that old saying that, for me, always sums up our town, (and yes, I've taken some liberties with the wording): There are no strangers here in this walkable suburb; only friends you haven’t met yet.