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    5 Ways to Build a Community to Outlast the Pandemic

    How can you engage with your neighbors when officials recommend we stay six feet apart? The coronavirus pandemic fundamentally rocked the structure and dynamic of our communities, but people are ingenious. Our Huntsville communities responded to the challenge and overcame the isolation to find new, creative ways to interact with others. Here are a few ways Huntsville has fostered neighborhood connections and built a community to stay strong beyond the pandemic. 

    #1- Social groups and platforms

    Our communities and neighborhoods turned to technology to socialize. Usage surged across social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. What stands out:

    • Nextdoor has been around for a while, but usage spiked during the shelter in place orders, with an 80 percent increase in users at one point.  People use the platform to communicate about neighborhood changes, coordinate virtual events, and find local recommendations. The city of Huntsville and its departments used Nextdoor to share relevant information with its citizens.
    • Facebook groups became another way to connect. The community came up with some pretty interesting ideas to keep networking. One of my favorites is the Huntsville Lunch Club, where members connect over photos of what’s for lunch as we work from home or otherwise. Search your interests, and chances are you’ll find a group. Local neighborhoods, like Five Points, Blossomwood, and Hillwood Estates, run Facebook Groups to communicate with neighbors. 

    #2- Encouraging local business

    It’s essential we communicate and share what’s happening with our local businesses. These small businesses are crucial to our local economy and the Rocket City culture. To encourage us to support local businesses, the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce launched Get Your Gift On. It’s a place to purchase gift cards, donate to staff support funds, and order delivery or pickup. It’s free for local businesses to sign up and advertise.

    With changing regulations, keeping track of who’s open and their rules is difficult. As a measure of supporting the community, the Downtown Huntsville Initiative (DHI) has been working with the local restaurants and entertainment places to publish updates on who is open and how to visit them while remaining safe. Find this information through social media and their website. 

    #3- Events while social distancing

    We need real human connections despite recommendations to stay six feet apart. Neighborhoods have come together to create fun events, using online groups to coordinate window or yard scavenger hunts for the kids. Neighbors have surprised each other with yard art and signs. Other groups organized Zoom book clubs as a way to meet and chat. Some people have hosted porch happy hours where they bring their own drinks and socially distance in the yard. 

    The DHI has the Friday Night Art Walk happening the last Friday of the month through September. The event is encouraging social distancing by spreading the artists out along Courthouse Square and adjacent streets. It’s a way to get out of the house, explore historic Downtown Huntsville, and support artisan goods from over 30 local vendors.

    Farmer’s markets are running through the summer, adhering to recommended guidelines and offering pick-up options. The Greene Street Market at Nativity is a community destination. This open-air market happens every Thursday through the summer, rain or shine, in downtown. Huntsville has several other farmer’s markets, like Latham and Madison City, all with local produce and products.

    Drive-in movie theaters are seeing a boost in business, and neighborhoods and organizing community movies, like this one in MidCity.

    #4- Staying fit and motivated

    Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress, but what to do when the gyms are shut down? Fitness centers initially turned to online streaming workouts to meet the means of our community.  Fleet Feet HSV ran the Keep Moving Huntsville challenge, a virtual challenge seeking to motivate people to run, walk, or hike 1 mile a day during May.  

    What about 5K charity races and other fitness events? Community fitness challenges have gone virtual. The Running of the Bulls 5K in September changed to a virtual format with three participation options. Other races adapted with remote formats, rescheduled or postponed. Some, like the Cotton Row Run, did opt to cancel.

    Social groups have also set work-at-home virtual challenges to encourage people to get out, explore their neighborhoods, and maintain their fitness at the same time.

    #5- Celebrating the end

    As coronavirus restrictions lift, it will be a perfect time to bring together the community built online and celebrate with a block party or a barbecue. Use the social tools developed over the pandemic to finally have those face-to-face meetings. Part of how we network will always be online, but as we move forward, our online communities will work in tandem with the real world.

    Our neighborhoods and the people that make them up are so important. The pandemic helped us discover new ways to be together and build connections. Communities are about the people, and Huntsville has stepped up to continue community bonding even when we cannot be together.

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