SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- How would you react if your neighbors died in a murder-suicide and you realized that you did not know their names? Then you discover none of your neighbors knew their names.

Would you have feelings of guilt, wondering if you could have made a difference?

Would you have feelings of anger toward other neighbors for not being involved?

Or would you be motivated to make a change?

Peter Lovenheim, when faced with this exact situation, was motivated to change. He began finding ways to connect with his neighbors. Eventually, he did “sleepovers” with his neighbors to learn more. That experience forms the basis of his book, "In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time."

My next session of Neighboring 101 begins on Zoom at 12 CST on Thursday, Feb. 16 and Peter Lovenheim will be my guest. You can register for Neighboring 101 and all future sessions online at

Lovenheim is an author and journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, New York magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Parade, Politico, The Washington Post, and other publications.

Lovenheim told me that deadly experience with his neighbors caused him to ask questions.

“I asked myself: Do I live in a community or just in a house on the street surrounded by people whose lives are entirely separate from mine? And I asked myself, what if I could deliberately get to know these strangers on my street, what would I learn, and how might it change the neighborhood?” said Lovenheim.

In the process, Lovenheim discovered that neighbors do matter.

“Neighbors matter because our society is too fragmented. If we want to start rebuilding a healthy civil society by learning to understand and live peacefully with people whose ideas about religion, morality, and politics may be different from our own, a very good place to start is with the people in our own apartment building or on our block,” said Lovenheim. “Neighborhoods matter because the people closest to us may be able to enrich our lives in ways we'll never know unless we know them.”

According to Lovenheim, there are five ways to strengthen your neighborhood.

First, make a neighborhood directory or map, with everyone’s contact information and distribute it to everyone in the neighborhood.

Second, host neighborhood-wide events at least monthly. Annual picnics are nice but more frequent events work better. Special holiday events are great too.

Third, encourage residents to engage in front yard activity to get people out and visible to passersby.

Fourth, use online services (like email and neighbor apps) to enhance communication. Just be sure these tools are used to enhance, as opposed to being the only way connections are made.

Fifth, try to create some shared property. For example, convert an empty lot into a pocket park or convert a foreclosed house into a community-owned rental facility.

Enroll in Neighboring 101 at to listen live to Lovenheim or watch the class recording anytime.

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