Peter Lovenheim had lived on the same street in suburban Rochester, New York much of his life. But it was only after a brutal murder-suicide rocked the neighborhood that he was struck by a fact of modern life in contemporary American communities: No one really knew anyone else.
Thus began Peter’s search to meet and get to know his neighbors. Being inquisitive, he did more than just introduce himself. He asked, ever so politely, if he could sleep over.
With an open mind and a curious spirit, Lovenheim takes us inside the homes, minds, and hearts of his neighbors and asks a thought-provoking question: Do neighborhoods still matter—and is something lost when we live as strangers next door?
Lovenheim also just published a short piece on Parade.com. Here’s a snippet…
When Jodi Lee, a librarian, bought a home in 2004 near downtown Columbus, Ohio, neighbors told her about “Wednesdays on the Porch.” From the first week after Memorial Day through early fall, residents take turns hosting a weekly porch party for their neighbors. It is a way to get to know one another, exchange information, and keep in touch. Jodi was encouraged to host one. She followed the advice and, a few weeks later, on her own front porch, met her neighbor Bill Sieloff. Four years later, he became her husband. “The wedding was almost like a Wednesday on the Porch,” Jodi recalls, “so many neighbors were there.”
Doug Motz, one of the founders, estimates that since these Wednesdays began eight years ago, about 75 different families have held more than 130 porch parties in the neighborhood. “It’s a time for sharing—opinions on new restaurants, how to find good painters and home-repair people—but it’s primarily social,” Motz says. “And the nice thing is, the hosts don’t have to worry about cleaning up inside.”
New traditions like this are a welcome exception to the trend favoring privacy over community, which goes back to the post–World War II flight to the suburbs. According to social scientists, neighborhood ties today are less than half as strong as they were in the 1950s. Recently, the trend has accelerated with suburban “McMansions,” huge houses set back from wide streets with big backyards that further isolate neighbors from one another.