Experts Share Why It Pays to Know You Neighbors

Mar 12, 2014

In the weeks since the kidnapping and murder of Hailey Owens, discussions on how to ensure the safety and security of neighborhoods have grown. KSMU's Theresa Bettmann has more on building stronger neighborhood communities.

How many people do you know in your neighborhood?  Some experts suggest that you should know at least 10 along your street.  But how many of us actually do? I, myself, confess to only knowing four, and wanted to learn the numbers of others.

"We live on a corner lot on Weller Street and the people to our immediate north we know them pretty well and sometimes help with the clean-up,” says Bert. 

“I don't know it's just easy for me because we had young kids when we moved in here and so did other people so we were just outside all of the time just talking,” says Kristy.

That’s Bert and Kristy, who I spoke with on my walk through a Springfield neighborhood. Many declined to be recorded, but on average, the answer was around three or four neighbors. Kristy was the only one I spoke with who said she knew at least 10.

Randall Whitman is with the City of Springfield Neighborhood and Planning Office. He says the city has many programs available to neighborhood groups as part of their Great Neighborhoods program like neighborhood watch groups, clean up groups or even organized neighborhood associations.

"For the City of Springfield, an organized group is just simply a group of people who have collectively come together, they've adopted some basic bylaws about how they are going to operate, they have open elections, and they don't discriminate or discourage anybody from being a part of their organization.  It is open to anybody within whatever geographic boundaries they have established," Whitman says.

Neighborhood associations are not to be confused with homeowner's associations that are legally defined and specified by a particular subdivision, says Whitman.  Rather, a neighborhood association is a group of volunteers that, among other things, may choose to improve the area in which they live, or response to a crisis.

There are currently around 20 registered neighborhood associations throughout the city, with varying levels of involvement.  Dee Ogilvy is the vice president of one of the oldest groups, the Midtown Neighborhood Association.  Ogilvy says she used to visit her grandmother in midtown as a child when “everybody knew everybody;” which is a stark contrast from today.

"I think that we are too isolated; we're too busy and we don't really have the time to go out and meet neighbors. And I think that's vital for a neighborhood to survive.  And I'm not just talking about where you own a house and that's your neighborhood.  A neighborhood has to be where people talk to each other," Ogilvy says.

Ogilvy says she now walks the neighborhood as her grandmother did and has come to know at least 100 neighbors in every direction.  She stresses how important it is to look out for one another, and that being a good neighbor doesn't mean you have to be a "busy body."

"I think really you just have to engage people.  And even if you don't like a person particularly because of their politics, or something like that, that doesn't mean you can't be a good neighbor to them," says Ogilvy.

Ogilvy says the Midtown Association sends out around 800 newsletters as one way to engage residents. She says that whether or not a neighborhood has a formal organization, it is about coming together, noting that people can also get involved with their local schools, PTAs, churches or scout groups.

Whitman equates the neighborhood to a type of "surrogate family" structure providing a variety of resources from simply borrowing a tool, to helping in a time of need.

"I think the best thing is to call down to the City and say 'hey we want to block the street off and have a barbeque.’ Drag a grill to the edge of the street and have a block party.  Invite everyone and tell them to bring a dish.  Let the kids go out and do whatever they do and just sit around and socialize.  It's the little things that grow those relationships.  And the second you know somebody, and the second you get to know them on another level, the whole dynamic of where you live changes," says Whitman.