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The Biggest, Brightest Spots of 2017: Neighborhood Stories That Inspire

From holding our breath in the shadow of the sun to breaking bread with a big group of strangers, here are 2017's shining moments.

Through all the ups and downs of the year’s big headlines, we at Trulia have also been keeping an eye on the local news. Very local. We’re talking street-level neighborhood stories about neighbors helping neighbors, about a block pulling together in a moment of crisis, about someone noticing a need and knocking on a door. When you look at things from this perspective, it becomes clear that we’re all counting on each other, whether we realize it or not.

It’s the dramatic moments that get everyone’s attention, of course—the heroics when a fire or hurricane wipes out the whole block. But our neighbors are there for us in simpler ways, too. In a recent survey commissioned by Trulia and conducted online by Harris Poll, 77 percent of Americans say they have helped out a neighbor in the past year—including things like loaning tools/household items, shoveling a driveway, sharing a meal. And nearly that many, 73 percent, figure they have at least one neighbor who would do the same for them if they needed it.

To celebrate this impulse, we’re sharing a handful of the year’s bright spots—stories about neighborhoods that have made all the difference to the people who live there.

Here’s to a more neighborly 2018 for us all.


    95-year-old Harvey Djerf takes the same walk twice a day, resting along the way.


    One neighborhood helped their favorite veteran rest his legs on daily walks.

    Neighborhood Spotlight: Medicine Lake, Minnesota

    Harvey Djerf has been walking around his neighborhood in Plymouth, Minnesota since 1951, when he first moved to Medicine Lake. As Djerf hit his nineties, his neighbors noticed he was starting to slow down. They decided to do something about it. One by one, the people on his walking route started to put chairs out at the end of their driveways. For years it was three chairs, and then there were more. In 2017, Djerf’s daily walk included stops at the nine chairs put out especially for him. Of course, each stop came with a neighbor visit (and sometimes some cookies).

    Djerf’s row of chairs in Medicine Lake is a visible sign—small but potent—of the strength of the neighborhood and the relationships that built it. Djerf says, “As you get older, you value human contact more than you did before. It gives me a kind of a warm feeling to know my neighbors are so concerned.”


    Resident Deborah Blum joined with neighbors to save animals from the wildfires in Santa Rosa.


    The people of a fire-ravaged place joined hands to rescue the animals they love.

    Neighborhood Spotlight: Santa Rosa, California

    In the middle of the night on October 8th, 2017, Santa Rosa woke to the sound of emergency sirens in the street, fists knocking on doors. Wildfires were approaching, and they were getting close. It was time to evacuate.

    Along with everyone else, Deborah Blum left her house that night, but returned as soon as she was able to join with her neighbors to save animal lives. She says, “We were grabbing our dog leashes and horse leads, jumping into the van, and driving right to where the fire was. We’d arrive at a property, make a football line by holding hands, then herd the animals in the right direction and into the trailer.”

    Roland Tembo Hendel, a neighbor whose animals are still being sheltered and cared for by Deborah, was expecting to see official help for an emergency on the scale of the Santa Rosa fires. In hindsight, he sees it differently. “My experience showed me that there’s no institution, just us. We’re the ones who are responsible.”

    Hendel nods to Blum with a grateful smile, then shares an even deeper realization: “In the blink of an eye, we lost all of our material possessions, but we never felt richer than that moment, knowing our community was behind us.”


    Beth Hoffman and John Hogeland with the pot they used to cook dinner for the neighborhood.


    Hundreds of people in one neighborhood came together to break bread.

    Neighborhood spotlight: Mission Terrace, San Francisco

    When Beth Hoffman and her husband John Hogeland moved to their neighborhood in San Francisco, they took note of the unpaved alleyways behind their house. “These right-of-ways owned by the homeowners seemed like the perfect place for dinner.” 

    At first, logistics were a pesky problem, but then word spread about the idea, and everyone started pitching in. Soon neighbors were dragging tables from their homes, creating email chains to divvy the work. Hogeland’s pasta sauce was a huge hit. More importantly, Hoffman says, “Aside from people taking pictures, I don’t recall seeing a single phone out, no texting, no Facebook. Just people in the moment, in a place we all call home, together.”

    Mission Terrace realized it has more in common than a shared zip code. The neighborhood-wide dinner party was a moment to share the simple things, like a love of red wine and red pasta sauce.


    Resident Gustavo Rivera working to make the neighborhood “alive and happy, like before.”


    Long after the hurricane ended, one neighborhood kept rebuilding together.

    Neighborhood Spotlight: Woodloch, Texas

    Located 30 miles outside of Houston, the tiny town of Woodluch, Texas was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Harvey. Longtime resident Gustavo Rivera recalled, “It flooded my neighborhood 10 feet high. The water just rose and rose.”

    Rivera, whose neighborhood ties are strong and stretch back to his childhood, didn’t sit still for one minute. As soon as he could go outside, he was meeting with neighbors and organizing. “We started by making 150 sandwiches in my kitchen. By the end of the week it was 3000.”

    From distributing heaters to removing mold-infested walls, this close-knit community is working tirelessly to get back to where they were before the floods hit. When asked about how everyone works together to rebuild, Rivera says, “We used to be neighbors. Now we’re family.”


    Looking at the first total solar eclipse to hit the United States in 38 years.


    The moment neighborhoods across America looked at the sky at the same moment.

    Neighborhood Spotlight: Franklin, North Carolina

    On August 21, 2017, the sun hid behind the moon in the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the contiguous US since 1979. In Franklin, North Carolina, the path of totality brought visitors and locals together, setting up hammocks, blankets, and tents for the big moment. Locals handed out eclipse glasses, warning families to share so there would be enough to go around.

    As the eclipse neared, mobile phone service slowed down. Whether it was the influx of visitors or the sharing of photos of the sun as it disappeared, phones stopped working for a moment.

    Neighbors in Franklin—and across America—put down their phones and turned to the sky, then to each other, sometimes for the first time.

What makes you love where you live? Share in the comments below or on social using #InMyNeighborhood.


METHODOLOGY: This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Trulia from November 20-22, 2017 among 2,171 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Trulia Research.