Sleeping with your neighbors

Well, sleeping AT your neighbors, anyway.

Peter Lovenheim had an interesting NYT Op-Ed this June called *Won’t You Be My Neighbor?*.  Spurred on by the shocking double murder-suicide of some neighbors of his whom he didn’t know, he started a project (which his teenager daughter rolled her eyes at) to try to persuade his neighbors to let him do adult sleepovers with them, and in the process build up relationships and trust.  Initially neighbors were distrustful, but now half of the roughly twenty neighbors he’s asked have said yes.

It’s a very moving story.  One wonders whether a block party or informal social gathering might not have been an easier place to begin, but it’s hard to knock his integrity and motivation.  Lovenheim hopes that if something horrible like his neighbors’ dual murder-suicide would ever be likely to occur again, he’ll be in the know and possibly able to nip it in the bud.

How often neighborhoods lie one catalyst away from being reconnected.  A college roommate of mine single-handledly revived a neighborhood he lived in by resuscitating a social club, doing odd jobs free for neighbors, asking to borrow tools (or lending them).  One hears many other stories of people who revived neighborhoods through street watches, or urban gardens, or babysitting cooperatives.  As Paul Resnick (of the Saguaro Seminar) suggested, better to ask a favor of neighbors than to wait for them to ask; and by asking for a favor you invite others to ask one of you.

So here’s to the Peter Lovenheims of the U.S. May there be many more and may it not take a tragic death or emergency in your neighborhood to awaken you for the need of these precious ties.  The social disconnection is not always as fatal as it was in *Dying Alone* (where Eric Klinenberg describes how the ones who perished in Chicago’s Heat Wave of 1995 were almost always socially isolated), but there is a heap of sociological and public health literature detailing the more invisible cost to those who are isolated (less happy, less healthy, harder time finding jobs, homes more likely to be broken into, etc.).

Read the Lovenheim Op-Ed here and comments here.

For a list of things you can to do promote neighborliness (short of sleeping over at someone’s house) see 150 Things you can do to build social capital.

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2 responses to “Sleeping with your neighbors

  1. This is a very interesting article. It reflects how one person can help improve a towns social capital and create a bond between their neighbors. It helps back up some of Putnam’s ideas and should help me form my research paper!

  2. I grew up in tiny towns in Nebraska and Kansas. So, when I moved to the suburbs 11 years ago I had no idea it was going to be this tough.
    And the worst thing about living here is that the other women make it look so easy. I was so freaked out by my new suburban life that one day I ran away from home.

    Yes, I literally “ran” away from home. Just like a little kid.

    I bolted out the front door and started running. I ran weaving through the neighbors front yards and back yards like a criminal under pursuit. I ran and ran and ran until I was finally stopped by a huge privacy fence. And that is where I sat on the ground and cried and cried and cried.

    Eventually, I stood up and started the long, weaving, walk back home. All I could think of as I traced my way back home through my neighbors beautiful green lawns was “What are those women doing in those four bedroom colonials? And why are they so damn happy?”

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