Gone relationship building...

Tonight, people in thousands of communities around the United States will gather on the street with their neighbors. While some are raising questions about the compensation of the founder of National Night Out - and even rejecting the organizational name in protest - the idea behind the annual event is hard to quibble with: getting to know your neighbors can help reduce crime.

On my block in a working class neighborhood in St. Paul, Minn., National Night Out is a rare occasion for some of us (me included) to do more than wave or call out a non-committal hello. We need a space - temporal, psychological and physical – to initiate and tend to relationships with the people around us. (Lots has been written about why this is important and how we can make it happen. The nonprofit organization Project for Public Spaces is a good resource.)

Having relationships with the people around us is important for more than reducing crime, of course. Building those relationships gives us practice negotiating differences in self-interest, in political affiliation, in age, in approaches to lawn maintenance – even in the most homogeneous neighborhood there will be differences to bridge. And being able to bridge differences is essential to working together for the good of all of us, whether it’s at the block level, with our local government, or on a national scale.

Sound Pollyanna-ish? Maybe. But true? Absolutely.

What is your experience with National Night Out? With building relationships with neighbors? Share with other readers of this blog by posting a comment.


In many previous places we've lived, I wouldn't have known the person 2 doors down from me. Minneapolis is different. As the newest (we moved in 2 months ago) residents on a block where most have lived in their homes 40 or more years, we were happy to find that the "old-timers" still came out to play last night!

Since moving in, we've created our own public space, as well - our front porch. My 2 1/2 year old and I sit and, as she says "watch the world go by." Because we live very close to a small park (which itself serves as a public gathering space for the entire neighborhood), we have many opportunities for interaction and connection with our neighbors.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs