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Eyes on the Street

When many of us envision an ideal neighborhood, we picture children laughing and playing, people waving from their porches, and a generally cordial atmosphere. Safety and security are implied attributes of an ideal neighborhood, yet one crawling with police doesn’t elicit warm feelings of home. That’s because law enforcement, in and of itself, does not a safe neighborhood make. 

In his book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, author John McKnight explains that:

“… A safe street is produced by eyes on the street. It is produced by people walking around, sitting outside, knowing neighbors, and being part of a social fabric. No number of gates or professional security people on patrol can make us safe. They can increase arrests, but basically safety is in the hands of citizens. Citizens outside the house, interacting with others, being familiar with the comings and goings of the neighbors.”

The book goes on to say that a Chicago study by Robert Sampson and colleagues found that two factors often predicted whether a neighborhood was crime prone: 

Is there mutual trust and altruism among neighbors? And,

Are neighbors willing to intervene when children misbehave? 

Perhaps the reason we imagine an ideal neighborhood as one where children can play safely is because we expect that it would also be one where parents and neighbors are looking out for one another’s children. If little Jimmy is out later than he should be, well, the neighbors will see him and send him home (or at least call Mom and tell her where he is). 

In order for this level of trust to be present, however, we have to get to know our neighbors. Really know them. Do you share this degree of trust with your neighbors? If you saw a neighbor child out by himself, would you know him by name? Would you be comfortable enough with his family to contact them?  If not, how can you be eyes on the street for your neighborhood and its children?

(Excerpt from chapter 1 of The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2012.)

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