by John Dankosky - Fresh off a near sub-freezing mowing of the lawn (including the little patch in front of the abandoned house next door) I’m digging into my Sunday reading list about neighbors. We wanted to think a bit more about who our neighbors are, what we know about them, and why we should care.
We couldn’t help but wonder more, as we saw scores of stories and video clips from Bridgeport and Shelton over the last few weeks. Dozens of international and local reporters descended on these towns, hungry for any shred of information about the alleged Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad. NPR’s Robert Smith’s story bears the headline that – while seemingly dead-on – is almost a cliche of crime stories: Faisal Shahzad: ‘Nice Guy’ Turned Terrorism Suspect
Shahzad’s Bridgeport neighbors paint the standard picture: “We’ve never seen nobody coming out of the house … or coming in,” says neighbor Lavonne Muse. “We really thought it was vacant. We didn’t know people was living there.”
NBC Connecticut’s story talked about a “quiet, normal” man – the description most associated with neighbor’s shocked reactions to tragedy. In fact, a search of “neighbor a quiet man” drew me to dozens of links, including a Christian Slater movie I never saw, and a YouTube video about reaction to a courthouse shooter. The first neighbor’s sound bite could essentially be copied and used in nearly any television report on a similar incident. ”He was very, very quiet. He kept to himself,” Johnetta Watkins told the AP.
Then there’s the New York Times headline about Shahzad, seemingly asking for a bit more from those who live next door. It screams: Suspects’ Neighbors Say There Was No Hint of Evil. Whoa. We’re supposed to be sniffing out evil now?
So, the question is, how well should we get to know those around us? Not for reasons of international security, but just so that we have someplace to go when we get locked out of the house. Just so there’s someone to call if you need a favor. Just so your home, already a castle, doesn’t turn into a fortress.
We’ll be talking with Mark Oppenheimer, a regular WNPR contributor, whose essay “It’s a Wonderful Block” in the Times, explores what makes his New Haven street work. He writes that his street, while no “real estate agents dream,” also “values community without requiring conformity.” That the neighbors are “friendly but not nosy.”
We’ll also hear from Peter Lovenheim, the author whose new book, “In the Neighborhood” has him sleeping over at the houses of people who live near him, but whom he’s barely gotten to know.
I hope you can join us. What makes a good neighbor? Leave a comment below, or call 860-275-7266 from 9-10 am ET. You can also send an email to email@example.com.