Where We Live: A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

What makes a good neighbor?

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Mark Oppenheimer
Photo:Chion Wolf
Chion Wolf
Where We Live 05-10-2010
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Where We Live 05-10-2010

After the recent news of a Connecticut man who attempted to set off a bomb in Times Square, we heard a lot from his neighbors.

They said he was a “quiet, normal man” and that “he kept to himself”. They didn’t know much about alleged bomber, although he had lived next door for years.

Today, where we live, in a society that values independence and personal space – what is the role of a “neighbor”?  

We’ll talk to a journalist who spent the night at his neighbors houses to get to know them better – and a writer who values his neighborhood in New Haven.

What makes a good neighbor? Is it time to tear down our “good fences”? 

Today's show originally aired on 5/10/2010.



Listsner Email from Ruth

Even in your intro, you have been talking about the importance of privacy as a societal norm, as though it is a universal part of our culture that neighbors don't know anything about each other. I have lived in the Hartford area for about 5 years, but grew up in Iowa. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I can tell you that the idea of total discomfort getting to know your neighbors is not universal. In my experience, this is really part of the New England culture and has been one of the hardest things for me to adjust to since moving here.

Listener Email from Helen

About 10 years ago, my son and I started a "newsletter" on our 2 block street, Eli Chapman Road, in Moodus, and interviewed our neighbors to learn more about them. We kept this up for about a year, it included having a communal "tag sale" on one day, and we tried to have a BBQ, but that's where it ended. We did get to know our neighbors a little better, but after we stopped writing the Eli Chapman News, it all went back to the "your house, my house" mentality of don't mess with our lives. Some neighbors stayed in touch (certainly immediate next door), other moved away, or lost interest in giving us "updates".

I think it's a New England thing -- "Good Fences make Good Neighbors."

Listener Email from Elizabeth

Speaking of being embarassed at being angry at another neighborhood driver - we wish that were true! We moved from west hartford to simsbury in large part because we'd heard such wonderful things about the schools and community. We were wrong!

We live on a street that is a 25 mph street and unfortunately have found that it us traveled at 45 to 50 miles an hour. In addition, we are hounded daily (swearing, honking) and narrowly missed by these speeding drivers as we try to turn into our driveway. We've discovered that the most aggressive drivers are actually those who live within a mile of us. Our theory is that because our neighbors don't share a sidewalk and don't share common space, there is no responsibility to each other. Its as though the lack of shared space permits them to justify treating people who are neighbors in a manner that they would find very upsetting because we only interact with one another through our car windows as we drive by. As we've reached out and raised this issue with our neighbors, the feedback has been so aggressive and negative that we will be moving out of town as soon as possible.

The attitude of people in this town is that the request by a neighbor for modified behavior makes us a nimby! Simsbury's complete absence of common space (huge lots, fences, no sidewalks)encourages isolationism.

Listener Email from Theresa

Nicola Allen convinced her Burton Street neighbors in the North End of Hartford to take down their fences and plant gardens. People got to know each other and became friends through meetings she held on her porch. ... It took her several years, but she's really formed close relationships with her neighbors and helped others form friendships.

Here's a link to a story I wrote about her in The Hartford Courant: