Last week I attended the Annual General Meeting of our Condominium Corporation.
I watched as people filed into the room, stiffly nodding at their neighbours as they took their seats.
There were a few muted conversations in the room but mostly people kept to themselves as they waited for the meeting to begin.
Even though we are all neighbours, it was somewhat like being in a roomful of strangers.
I was reminded of an article I read several years ago. Researchers had spread out across several major cities in both Canada and the U.S. They had initially gone into residential communities with a high concentration of single-family homes and had inquired about relationships with neighbours.
They first asked about next-door neighbours:
- What are their names?
- What are their kid’s names?
- What do they do?
- How well do you know them?
- Do you socialize?
- Babysit for each other?
- Look after each other’s houses when away?
And a variety of other questions to gauge how connected these neighbours were to each other.
They then asked similar questions about neighbour’s two houses down, three houses down, four etc.
They probed about relationships with neighbours across the street, around the corner, block get-togethers, parties etc.
Later they turned their attention to town-house complexes and then to high-rise residential buildings, always asking the same questions.
The results were quite shocking. Most people reported little contact with their neighbours, or, at best, a nodding acquaintance.
When friendships were reported, they were usually confined to immediate neighbours and seldom extended beyond two or three houses on either side.
In high-rises the results were even more startling. People spoke of living on the same floor with the same neighbours for five, ten and even fifteen years without ever having more than a fleeting conversation with the person next door.
Interaction was limited to brief elevator rides during which the most common topic of conversation was the weather.
They were surprised to discover how many people did not know their neighbour’s names.
Results from neighbourhoods and building with large ethnic mixes were even more troublesome. In those communities people tended to have relationships with neighbours of matching ethnicity while virtually ignoring everyone else.
Our researchers then contacted local law-enforcement agencies, reviewed crime stats for the communities they had visited and drew some interesting conclusions from their findings.
They discovered that in those neighborhoods with a higher concentration of people knowing each other and having regular interaction with each other there were significantly fewer incidents of crime.
Interestingly, in those same neighborhoods there were higher volumes of calls for service to police agencies. Initially, the researchers were puzzled by this until they realized why police received more calls from those neighborhoods where folks knew each other
It’s quite simple really. When you know who your neighbors are you also know who your neighbors aren’t. And when you know who your neighbors aren’t you are more likely to pay attention to people in your community who do not belong there and therefore you are more likely to report suspicious behavior.
Also of interest to researchers was information gathered from local schools.
Children from neighborhoods where friendships were common and neighbors frequently interacted with each other, tended to have higher attendance rates at school and far fewer reported incidents of bullying.
It appears that kids from those neighborhoods were less likely to be bullied at school for two reasons. Firstly, if in fact the local bully was a neighbor, he/she would be more inclined to go after kids from a different neighborhood, and secondly if a child from one of those neighborhoods was be bullied by others there was a greater likelihood that his/her friends and neighbors would come to his/her rescue therefore thwarting the bully’s efforts.
Last week in blog #194 “We need to start doing this now” we talked about reaching across ethnic and religious differences to befriend and embrace those who are different from us in the hopes that over time we will celebrate those differences rather than fearing, opposing and fighting them and in so doing, we would contribute to making the world a far more peaceful place.
Maybe we are not quite ready to take that step just yet. Perhaps the first thing we need to do is knock at our neighbor’s door and say “Hi I’d like to get to know you and your family, please come over for coffee.”
Gimalle, my wife, and I have always made an effort to get to know our neighbors. We frequently visit their homes as they do ours. Our motivation in doing so is not to reduce crime on the floor of our condo; it is simply to make new friends.
This has proven to be a wise and valuable choice on our part; we have good friends who might otherwise have remained strangers.
Here is my challenge to you. Go meet a neighbor today; it may be the beginning of the best friendship you’ll ever have.
Till we read again.
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