BOOK: In the Neighborhood

October 30, 2011

I’m intrigued by a book that’s recently caught my attention.  The title? In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.  Here’s a bit from an interview with the author:

Peter Lovenhiem—In the Neighborhood:The Search for Community on an American Street One Sleep Over at a Time. 

In the year 2000, in a suburban New York neighborhood there was a tragedy that changed Peter Lovenheims view on community in his neighborhood.  A married couple of physicians seemed to be the perfect family.  Husband, wife, boy, girl and all was well. One night the father came home, shot his wife, shot himself, and the children went running into the darkness.

Beyond the horrific power of this going on in Peter Lovenheims neighborhood what really began to bother him viscerally was the fact that he didn’t know this family, and in asking around he discovered none of the other neighbors knew this family, and really no one knew anyone else on the street.

Peter set out to change this.  In 2008 he published “In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street One Sleep Over at a Time.”  As a journalist Peter began to intentionally develop relationships with his neighbors asking if he could write about their lives.  As the ultimate step of neighborly intrusion in the name of redeeming community Peter asked to stay the night at their homes and write about that 24 hour period.  Over half of them responded with a yes.

Q: What is the importance of community? What does that give to a city? What does the lack of it take away?

A: On a personal level, I think neighborhoods are important because we are all subject to emergencies, whether they’re related to health or crime. A friend 10 minutes away is sometimes a friend too far. Only your neighbor next door or across street can be there for them to help us or us to help them.

In a larger sense, strong neighborhoods can be a fundamental building block of a strong civil society. I think we’re very fragmented as a society, that we divide ourselves from each other in many ways: income, politically, religiously. If you want to repair the social fabric, a good place to start doing that is in the apartment building you live in or in the block you live on.

On a personal level are other important reasons. … Neighborhoods can enrich our lives, but we have to know what they have to offer. And in order to know what they have to offer, we have to know our neighbors.

Q: Why is reaching out to neighbors so scary for some people?

A: It is scary for many people. Statistics show that, on average, the number of meaningful contacts Americans have with their neighbors today have declined 50 percent over the last 50 years.

There’s a lot of reasons why we don’t know our neighbors the way we used to. One of them is a pervasive fear of strangers that’s developed in our society. I teach at the college level, and I have 19-year-old students who have been growing up their whole lives hearing about stranger danger. If they see an unknown person walking across campus, they are far more likely to think of that person as a potential threat than as someone they might enjoy getting to know. The stranger danger has taken its toll in making people afraid of reaching out and getting to know the people who live closest by them.

There are other reasons for our increasing isolation as well: With dual-income households, there are fewer people home during day, we spend more time on television and Internet, front porches have largely disappeared. New suburban housing construstruction often comes with fencecs already built between houses, when a generation or two ago, that was considered a slightly hostile act, to put fence up in yard.

Interesting huh?  Read it with a couple other people?


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