In Wonâ€™t You Be My Neighbor?, Peter Lovenheim sleeps over at over half of his neighbors to get to know them better. The reason? A neighbor shot and killed his wife and then himself but after a few weeks the only indication anything had changed was the â€œFor Saleâ€ sign on the lawn. A family had vanished, yet the impact on the neighborhood was slight. Lovenheim wanted to know why.
According to social scientists, from 1974 to 1998, the frequency with which Americans spent a social evening with neighbors fell by about one-third. Robert Putnam, the author of â€œBowling Alone,â€ a groundbreaking study of the disintegration of the American social fabric, suggests that the decline actually began 20 years earlier, so that neighborhood ties today are less than half as strong as they were in the 1950s.
I’ve often wondered why neighborhoods seem so different from when I was a kid. This explains it. What really gets to me is when you learn what you’re missing. Nothing can replace the feeling of helping others and being helped in times of need.
Eventually, I met a woman living three doors away, the opposite direction from Lou, who was seriously ill with breast cancer and in need of help. My goal shifted: could we build a supportive community around her â€” in effect, patch together a real neighborhood? Lou and I and some of the other neighbors ended up taking turns driving her to doctorsâ€™ appointments and watching her children.
Our political leaders speak of crossing party lines to achieve greater unity. Maybe we should all cross the invisible lines between our homes and achieve greater unity in the places we live. Probably we donâ€™t need to sleep over; all it might take is to make a phone call, send a note, or ring a bell. Why not try it today?
In my neighborhood for sale signs poke up out of every few lawns. Foreclosure is so common nowadays it’s easy to become used to it, but it still brings burdens to any household it hits. I barely know my next door neighbors, let alone the folks two doors down. If any of my neighbors are reading and aren’t ax murderers, you’re welcome to sleep over. I’ll even make hot chocolate. :)