Getting to Know You Seasonal Community Building

Getting to Know You

 Valerie Smaldone lives in a lovely, well-kept, prewar building in the Midtown  East area, known as the Beekman area. Her building was built in the late 1920's  and, among other amenities, has an extraordinary rooftop garden where she  occasionally meets and socializes with her neighbors. “There are a couple of socials on the roof per year,” says Smaldone, a radio and voice-over personality. “Residents are asked to bring wine or beverages, as well as some food to  contribute to the affair.”  

 In any building, it may be hard for a new resident to get to know their  neighbors. Do you strike up a conversation in the elevator or the laundry room  or go knocking on doors hoping to meet someone new? And what about the  residents who aren’t as socially skilled as other, more gregarious residents, yet who want to meet  their neighbors too?  

 Living Social

 Many condo developments offer on-site amenities such as a pool, gym, or tennis  courts and, frequently, condo associations will also host social events for  residents. Management can help residents to feel more at ease by providing  opportunities for residents to socialize with each other. The more comfortable  the residents are, the more they are bound to stay for a longer period of time.  

 “Co-ops and condos benefit when they have a charter to insure not only fiscal  responsibility, but one of community,” says Adam Weinstein, a board member in charge of adding community-minded  amenities to Hudson View Gardens, a cooperative apartment complex in the Hudson  Heights neighborhood of Washington Heights. “Properties that have diverse committees and program social functions are  successful.”  

 The rooftop and a working fireplace were the deciding factors that made Smaldone  sign on the dotted line and live in this building that has almost 100  apartments, but she is pleased with how management, and even the residents,  create regular fun events. “Throughout the years, there have been a variety of events that have even been  created by residents,” she says.  

 Her building also hosts apartment tours, where residents invite neighbors in to  see the design of their home. “Many people have done total renovations in their apartments, so each one has a  special look to it,” she says.  

 Carla Marie Rupp didn’t move into her building because of the activities they planned, but instead  because of her view overlooking the Hudson River. Her building does host  events, especially for its senior residents. “The senior center of IPN, Independence Plaza North, in Tribeca has had trips to  Coney Island, Atlantic City, and many other places,” she says. “My biggest enjoyment was being able to take my father when he had visited here.”  

 Celebrating the Holiday Spirit

 Several times a year, residents will gather in the lobby, with food and drinks  to toast the spirit of the holidays, such as New Year's Eve or Christmas. “I do think apartment buildings can do more for their residents in offering  community spirit,” says Rupp. “(For example) the Tenants Association has sponsored our political  representatives and senators to speak to us so we can ask questions. I think  it's really important to meet them and know who they are.”  

 There are several communities within Hudson View Gardens that invite the  Northern Manhattan arts community to show at the annual art show or weekly  concert series. The parents group manages an on-site playroom and school  readiness program along with an on-site playground. The community also hosts an  annual Halloween party and parade. There are 4th of July barbecues, Broadway  showcases, and welcoming parties for new residents. New on the schedule is an  Academy Awards party that the board hopes will become an annual tradition.  

 The Parkchester Condominiums in the Bronx hosts a summer concert series at The  Oval, the Friendship Day and Kite Day festivals. They have arts and crafts and  game centers in the south, west and east building quadrants for younger  residents as well as organized youth sporting leagues.  

 Not only do community events spark communication between residents, but it may  have an effect on the building’s bottom line as well. Savvy community events can also provide a special  opportunity to renew current residents.  

 If management or the association doesn’t offer events, it might be for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s budget, while for others it’s a lack of interest or participation from the residents. “Our building doesn’t have any events right now because the board just formed about a year ago,” says Aniello DeGuida, manager of the Cocoa Exchange in Manhattan.  

 Creating a roster filled with fun events is easy to do with some brainstorming  and imagination. To help kick start the ideas, check out the Internet and see  what other buildings across the nation are up to. A simple Google search and  you can see how one building in Yonkers hosted a book signing, while another in  Manhattan hosted a rooftop art exhibit. Common searches include: resident  appreciation party ideas, apartment events for residents, and ideas for  resident activities.  

 The holidays are a perfect opportunity to schedule events such as photos with  Santa, a great family event, decorating contests, holiday parties, New Year’s Eve or Day gatherings, charity events, and more.  

 Let’s Blog Together

 One of the best examples of community spirit belongs to Stonehenge Real Estate,  which owns and manages a portfolio consisting of 27 properties representing over 3,000  residential apartment units, retail, office, and garage space. Stonehenge’s blog, Rooftop, is for the culture, arts and the hearts of residents, where  events are posted. Here they post blog entries with guest speakers, such as  comedy writer Maria Murnane or sunset events. This summer they hosted one at  their Olivia building featuring young chefs invited by the James Beard  Foundation as part of its Greens events. The JBF Greens Sunset Social was part  of Stonehenge Partners’ commitment to connect its residents with the best of what New York City has to  offer and providing opportunities to them to enjoy their neighbors company is a  fun, social setting.  

 This summer, they also rolled out its Ride with Stonehenge BikeShare program in  which it partnered with Biria Bikes to provide free bikes and biking events for  its residents at 41 Park Avenue.  

 Rose Associates recently rolled out its “Leave it to Max” program, a full concierge program for its residents that will also include  in-building programming. Leave it to Max will offer an array of lifestyle  services and social activities designed to improve the quality of life for  residents, and has been rolled out to about 4,000 residents at Rose-managed  buildings so far.  

 “We want our residents to feel a sense of attachment to the building,” says Jamie Kaufman, manager of the Rose Associates’ program. “On one rainy night, we had an event with food and drink and the residents didn’t have to go anywhere. We also want new residents to feel attachment and stay  awhile.”  

 Their in-building programs include Halloween face painting, movie and sports  nights and more. “We also do this to stay competitive in the marketplace,” says Kaufman. “Buildings offer amenities such as dog spas and great amenity spaces and we offer  some of that, but maybe in some of our buildings that don’t, we offer the in building programs to our residents. People are very  responsive to the events.”  

 Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town also host many indoor and outdoor  events for their residents, including NFL and MLB games outside on the big  screen and a Halloween family carnival. They also hosted a free 5k fun run  through Stuy Town, where residents could make running buddies and get advice  from a fitness.  

 Spread the Word

 Encouraging residents to socialize is as easy as creating an event and spreading  the word about it. Rupp’s building also produces a regular newsletter that highlights interesting  residents and events. In a recent Stonehenge newsletter, a resident was  profiled who participated in a local charity, Blessings in a Backpack, an  organization that ensures that impoverished elementary school children are fed  on the weekends throughout the school year. Promoting what residents are  involved in is another way of stimulating conversation and promoting community  cohesion.  

 “Mostly communication is by a sign on the table in the lobby, or a note under the  door about upcoming events,” says Smaldone. “There are meet-and-greet events in the lobby and at Halloween time residents  sign up to provide candy for the kids in the building.”  

 Instilling a sense of community is valuable for all residents wherever they may  live—it creates a network of communication and support, and ultimately improves the  quality of life within the building community.   

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The  Cooperator.  

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