Like a Good Neighbor

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Eric Klinenberg. Then, he was front stage and center of a news story that mesmerized me and now, I’m stalking him.

Dr. Klinenberg is a professor of Urban Studies, Culture and Media at New York University. In 2003, he wrote the book Heatwave, detailing the 1995 Chicago summer temperature surge and the severe distress that it created in the communities there. More than 700 lives were lost that July due to extreme heat and poor response.

Chicago Neighbors via flickr.com/photos/gnas/2546442759/

Chicago Neighbors via flickr.com/photos/gnas/2546442759/

Despite this grim topic, the research that Klinenberg conducted in order to write his book produced a golden nugget finding that should be smack center of every community building and economic development agenda.

Klinenberg examined the outcomes of two adjacent Chicago communities. Despite similarities, the loss of life was drastically different between the two. Englewood and Auburn Gresham are both Chicago suburbs. They’re characterized by very similar demographics yet in Englewood, 33 people died for every 100,000 residents while in Auburn Gresham, only 3 people lost their lives per 100,000. Further, the average life expectancy in Auburn Gresham is 5 years longer than in Englewood.

Each of these communities yields similar physical infrastructure in terms of housing stock, roads, access to electricity and other services. What separates them is access to small commercial establishments of which Auburn Gresham has many.  These small establishments such as neighborhood coffee shops, restaurants and local pharmacies had the effect of drawing people from their homes into a social setting. In other words, residents had somewhere to go when it got hot and each of those locations produced human interactions that were critical to survival. The residents of Auburn Gresham were not only more likely to know their neighbors but they were more likely to survive a disaster. Put another way, the social infrastructure of the community was as equally as important as the physical infrastructure.

Applied broadly, Klinenberg suggests that this knowledge can form the basis of a new brand of homeland security – a type that not only protects us from the elements but that also focuses on making conditions better. Consider the possibilities: the nurturing of local businesses, the development of urban gardens that provide not only shade and food but also social interactions, the creation of multigenerational community opportunities.

In this period of capital scarcity, I take comfort in knowing that resiliency is also a social issue. The effects of communications, relationships and neighborhood are as important, if not more so than the physical engineering of the spaces.

How can we put this knowledge into practice?

Next Post
Leave a comment

62 Comments

  1. Planned communities do put this into practice by . . . having shops, banks, etc., within walking distance of homes . . . encouraging biking rather than driving . . . including green spaces for residents to use . . . adding front porches . . . encouraging neighbors to get to know their neighbors in face to face encounters. (Rather than through social media.)

    Interesting post, Tammy. That’s quite a variance in the death toll between the two neighborhoods.

    Reply
  2. Knowing your neighbour’s is a vital part of community in my opinion. Living in a small village gives us the sense of knowing ‘everyone’ even though we know it’s not possible!

    Reply
    • I don’t live in a small village at all but sure make a point of knowing at least most of my neighbors.

      Reply
  3. This would make a great platform for social justice implications discoverable in community attitudes and spaces. Excellent insights here. -renee

    Reply
  4. Reblogged this on meanlittleboy2 and commented:
    must read!!!

    Reply
  5. Where’s my recipe? Hi Tammy. I’m interested in this subject. In India, I often see extreme poverty in villages but neighbors smiling and sitting outside together and chatting and enjoying a quality of life that TV, McMansions and 20 minute drives to a box store don’t give. In Germany, we walk to the market and recognize and chat with the family that owns the bakery for generations. It a little more reserved here. But in Italy, you take a walk on a country road and you’ll have an invitation to wine within 30 minutes. (This experiment has only been conducted with the addition of a pretty lady accomplice…). I hope we Americans will implement a Gross Domestic Happiness infrastructure.

    Reply
    • It’s a fascinating topic Eric and probably in line with your business. I’m all for the GDHI

      Reply
  6. Excellent post, and lots of food for thought. I will certainly plan to read the book. Thank you, Tammy!

    Reply
  7. Tammy, great stalking! What you don’t do for your readers. Thank you for sharing this with us and what putting more social interaction into communities can do.

    Reply
  8. A post after my heart! Yes, the aspect of sustainability needs to be internalised by each member in the social group and community. It is this transformative awareness that can prevent many of the evils we see around us.

    Shakti

    Reply
  9. This is excellent news. I do hope that those controlling these situations do help those and assist those who are trying their best at running a sustainable lifestyle xx

    Reply
  10. Interesting! Somehow you never struck me as the crazy stalker type Tammy, lol.

    Seems so obvious, but somehow we live in a culture that seems to prefer the complex & abstract and ignore the simple & real…

    I have often noted the differences between the village where I grew up – socially diverse, walkable, great library & excellent public transportation access to the new suburban communities where everyone is so demographically alike; similar work, similar values, similar lifestyle, no choice but to drive everywhere, etc.

    Reply
  11. What a fascinating study! It makes so much sense. My dissertation focused on social support and the connection to health. We are, by nature, social creatures and need one another to survive and thrive. I hope that as more cities are built with communal shopping/entertainment centers, we will see a strengthening of human bonds in communities.

    Reply
  12. This post is an interesting read. I know that living on military bases, in my experience, has fostered a more immediate community cohesiveness than living in civilian communities. Not that on base life is any better than off–just that it seemed easier to meet a neighbor without a natural disaster or block even to spur the interaction. We chose our new neighborhood carefully, because of the physical aspects (trees, sidewalks, homes close together, businesses within walking distance, good schools) and I was interested to learn that my neighbors came over to meet us about as fast as in an on base community.

    Gives meaning to the real estate adage: location, location, location. Though “location” means different things to different people.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Kirsten, I would have never thought of military bases but what a great analogy. That is so interesting.

      Reply
  13. We need each other, that’s all there is to it. (I always knew that cafes had a grander purpose than just serving coffee!:)
    I view online communities of some importance as well as the physical. I wonder what implications that has on psychological and physical health? Interesting.

    Reply
    • I like the contemplation of the online community. Personally, I’ve become quite attached to mine.

      Reply
  14. Sapna

     /  January 20, 2013

    This is so interesting. Speaking from personal experience, interacting with my neighbors has made a huge difference in my sense of connectedness, which I am sure has an effect on my overall well-being. For Auburn Gresham residents, knowing and interacting with neighbors and having a place to socialize outside the home literally made a difference between life and death. Even tough we live in Tempe, one of the densest parts of the Phoenix region, only one side of the street in our neighborhood has sidewalks – not exactly conducive to strolling… And while I could theoretically walk to our local grocery store, I would have to cross a 7-lane road to do so. As the economy improves in the region, developers should consider housing developments that promote walking, interactions with neighbors (let’s start with sidewalks on both side of the street and parking garages on the side of the house rather than in front), and close to local businesses.

    Reply
  15. Location, Location, Location. I always find this sort of thing fascinating. But applying the knowledge, that’s a whole other story.

    Reply
  16. You’ve inspired me to bring in the community aspect of farmers’ markets in my recent post!

    Reply
  17. It’s also one more reason to volunteer in your community, to pull in the national day of service theme. Anything– shelve books at your local library, help with taxes, tutor kids, help build Habitat for Humanity Houses, PTA, Rotary, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Meals on Wheels, get invovled in political or social advocacy, etc– builds social networks and add resilience to communities. I’ve been doing some reading about social networks (and thus social support) and it’s fascinating how many associations are found, and the value of having not only the various relationships with people in your family/work/neighborhood clusters but also being links between less connected clusters of people.

    Reply
  18. I like keeping updated with your blog and nominated you for the Versatile Blog Award. Check out all the details at:http://unbridledbliss.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/blushing/

    Reply
  19. A sense of community seems to be one of the unfortunate casualties of modern life. I always think of it as existing just in small towns but if it can take hold in Chicago, that is good news.

    Reply
  20. What an interesting study! Here in England we have a tradition of street parties..where communities, neighbours bring tables and chairs and bring food and set the tables along the road- and its a huge communal lunch/dinner etc usually to celebrate some sort of royal event…. the tradition has been dying down in bigger cities (like London) but is coming back into “fashion” as people have noticed… we do all need each other in the end…

    Reply
    • That’s a lovely idea. I live in a quiet cul de sac but that would be tremendous fun for our neighborhood.

      Reply
  21. Wonderful post! I was reading about this study last year, and I’m fascinated by it, too. I’m an American who lives in England, and I agree that the street parties are helpful in fostering community, but in my town what matters even more is the fact that just about everyone walks everywhere, so you are often bumping into people you know and saying hello. I think those short but frequent sightings and conversations make a real difference in connecting us to each other.

    Reply
    • I’m an American who used to live in England so I’ll bet we have much in common. Making a village walkable is a key, isn’t it Amy?

      Reply
  22. In my neighbourhood, there’s a local community of people with families, but many more people who look at the floor, the sky, anywhere but have to say Hi to their neighbour. I wonder if they would change their ways if they knew they were endangering their own lives…..

    Reply
    • Oooh, that’s too bad. What do you think causes it and what do you think could be a catalyst for change?

      Reply
  23. It is ironic to think that in a society that is so virtually connected, we are struggling to relearn lessons that our ancestors knew so well – that neighbors watching out for each other makes us more safe, that a support network of local friends can help us withstand loneliness and catastrophe. I think our transient, hectic life style does not create obvious opportunities (or insta-benefits, but that’s a gripe for another time) for putting down roots and going out of our way to meet and befriend neighbors and colleagues. Personally, I feel that our society’s veiw on the benefit of ‘rugged individualism’ has gone way too far. I hope that with the resurgence of attention on growing our own food and other DIY projects will come a realization that it does take a village to make our lives the best they can be – before we need it to survive. Thanks for such a though provoking post!

    Reply
    • I like your comment and the interesting notion that rugged individualism is an issue. It’s interesting because as a mom of a high school kid, he is constantly trying to find ways to “stand apart” so that he’ll become noticed by recruiters and others.

      Reply
      • My own two cents (of course) – but I feel like so many things that used to be scale-able or on a continuum (gun regulation being the one issue on the forefront of everyone’s minds these days) – there seems to have been a shift to the absolute – the all or nothing mentality. I think it is critical for self-preservation and happiness to be able to stand on one’s own two feet and, yes, that no one will make you happy unless you do it first. But we are social creatures who crave community and who benefit mentally and physically from human interaction. Your son strives to demonstrate his uniqueness (as a pre-med student way back in the day, I remember this game), but in the end most people just want to feel like they belong (but don’t seem to want to admit that). I think that somehow we need to make a mental change where the desire to belong (and actions taken to do so) does not demonstrate co-dependency or helplessness (damning traits these days), but in fact, a desire to work with others towards a greater good… So yeah, still an idealist over here :)

        Reply
  24. Fascinating, Tammy: I’d love to se the in-depth report on what the more resilient community did right. Thanks for a most thought provoking post.

    Reply
  25. Fascinating topic! Being a psychologist, I know that being embedded in a social network and having positive interactions with other people and the feeling that somebody is there you can speak to is probably the most powerful protective factor against any kind of stress. So it’s utterly important to foster social structures and exchange, and this affords creating places where people can meet. Personally, I’m very critical towards the culture of individualism and urbanism, and I believe that the future lies in finding back to communal structures of living, which is also possible in cities when you have something like a city quarter environment. In the part of Cologne where my husband Peter lives and I’m going to move soon, it’s like that. People know each other, and there are a few pubs where you’ll meet everybody sooner or later across the course of a week. Peter is planning to open a vegan café with two of his friends because that part of the city lacks a nice café where you can sit together during the day, so I very much hope these plans will work out.

    Reply
    • That sounds like a great vision for your future. I think this type of studying especially your interest in communal living is very interesting.

      Reply
  26. I heard this story on NPR the other day. I think somehow I always knew that connections to those around you made life better. We always help older neighbors in bad weather and think of it as doing good for someone else. It is pleasantly surprising to realize that the life you save, may be your own!

    Reply
    • I heard it on NPR also. I think it confirms what we knew already but how great to have research back it up!

      Reply
  27. tricesweet

     /  January 31, 2013

    Although this post has nothing to do with the size of the communities, but infrastructure, it makes me think of some of the differences between smaller and larger towns. It seems much easier to stay socially connected with neighbors in smaller, less crowded places. Plus, it’s much easier to get around to local stores biking, walking, etc. Very interesting post!

    Reply
    • I think you right. It does seem easier to stay connected in smaller communities. That’s one of the things that I like about this story so much – it was a very large community.

      Reply
  28. Lisa H

     /  February 14, 2013

    I don’t know what I would do without my neighbors! They have nailed shingles on our roof during storms when we are away, lovingly take care of our pets during vacation, wave to us on walks. Our kids play in the street throwing a football or playing tag while the dogs run with them and the adults mingle with a beer or glass of wine. A chorus of “CAR!” will shout out and everyone clears the road. Our elderly neighbor absolutely enjoys the sounds of the kids and the activity out front. We are truly blessed and I call many of our neighbors “friend.”

    Reply
  29. Lisa H

     /  February 14, 2013

    I forgot to mention…we are walking distance from a library, grocery store, park and restaurants. Very old fashioned!

    Reply
  1. “WILSON!” « Spirit Lights The Way
  2. Poetry at the Farmers’ Market | Agrigirl's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: