In their book, The Abundant Community, John McKnight and Peter Block write about seven neighbourhood necessities. The first of these necessities is safety and security which comes from being an active neighbourhood participant.
Fear is the opposite of feeling safe and secure – fear of change, fear of harm, fear of being judged or rejected. In the neighbourhood, these fears can result in us becoming acutely sensitised to potential dangers that lurk where we live. We start putting up higher fences, reducing the size of our front yards, fitting security screens, window shutters, motorised garage doors, cameras and house alarms. It is not that these things are inherently bad, nor is it that some of our neighbourhoods do not have things that genuinely impact our sense of safety and security. All of these things we do to our homes make us more secure in some capacity, however they are put there, mostly, due to fear.
When our neighbourhoods are built on fear it drives us into our homes, and makes us suspicious of those we live among. A friend of mine recently moved and said his new neighbour told him that they won’t answer the door if they are home, not even for a parcel delivery, so don’t bother knocking!
Even after the security systems and security doors and fences are in place, people are still overwhelmed by fear – to the point of not even answering the door. Why? When we shut ourselves in our homes, hit the button for the garage door and ghost in and out of our neighbourhoods, nobody is truly known and therefore everybody is a threat, someone to be feared.
John McKnight and Peter Block write:
… a safe street is produce by eyes on the street. It is produced by people walking around, sitting outside, knowing neighbours, and being part of the 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 neighbours. (The Abundant Community, 2010, “The Limits of Consumption”)
In the neighbourhoods where we have lived, we have invited neighbours over for drinks, thrown annual neighbourhood Christmas parties, and utilised local public space for BBQs and social gatherings. After only a few of these, we found that seeing a neighbour as they took the bin out resulted in a conversation instead of just a wave. People in the street would knock on the door and tell you if you left your front tap running or the light on in the car. The young mums and more senior members of our neighbourhoods were checked up on after a heatwave or cold snap. People looked after your house while you went away, feeding your pets, collecting your mail, watering the garden. And as a result, we had no fear for our young kids as they scooted up and down the footpath, or walked our dog over to the neighbour’s place for a chat.
The answer to our fear in the neighbourhood is not to retreat into our homes, deadlocking the door, but in building genuine relationships outside of them. The answer lies, not in suspicion of people who are different, but in sitting and hearing the stories of those who live around us. Creating a safe and secure neighbourhood comes from inviting people in, rather than shutting them out.