A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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“In the Neighborhood…”  

 

 Book Review by Linda Silva

 

 

 

Do we have any special obligations to our neighbors just because they are physically close? This is just one of the many questions that Peter Lovenheim explores in “In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.”

 

Peter Lovenheim grew up in an upscale neighborhood and then later in life moved back into the family home to raise his children. A neighborhood tragedy involving a murder-suicide of a couple, witnessed by their young children, and his own divorce prompted him to want to know more about his particular neighborhood, his neighbors and why neighbors are important. He decided to get to know his neighbors better by sleeping over at their homes and spending a regular day with them. Although some neighbors refuse his offer, others don’t. Lovenheim writes on a very personal level about these interactions and how they helped to give him and some of his neighbors help during hard times.

 

Lovenheim discusses the role that design and economic levels play on why, in some neighborhoods, neighbors ignore each other and yet in other neighborhoods, neighbors spend more time getting to know each other. For example, with the development of suburbs and single-family homes, those communities with money had bigger lots and set the homes further back from the street. With more physical distance between homes came less communication with the neighbors. In working class suburbs, neighbors live closer together which results in more of a sense of community among the residents. He also describes a day with the paper delivery guy and another day with the mailman. For his neighborhood, he found that they knew the neighbors better than the people who actually lived there.

 

When I moved from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, I was immediately struck by some differences. After over 20 years in one house in San Francisco, I knew one neighbor. After three days in Portland I knew the neighbors on each side of my house and two across the street. “In the Neighborhood” has helped me understand more about this noticeable difference, and not just in terms of a friendliness variable.

 

In his Epilogue, he relates activities in various communities around the United States (and France) that promote a sense of community and knowing one’s neighbors. For example, he writes about a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, where “neighbors take turns hosting ‘Wednesdays on the Porch’.” Neighbors gather together to chat and get to know each other. In my neighborhood, we get together about twice a year for a potluck. It is a multi-generational gathering with long time residents and people who are new to the neighborhood.

 

This book is both humorous and touching, making it an interesting and easy read.  I don’t think I would have the courage to ask to sleep over at my neighbors’ houses, but it is fun to read about someone who did and by so doing improved the quality of his life and that of some of his neighbors while deepening his understanding of their importance.

 

 

 

 

 

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