One of the most important outcomes of increased neighborhood interaction is greater community security. If we know our neighbors well enough to say “hello” in the mornings, we feel physically and psychologically safer, both at home and wandering the streets. Humans have a tendency to preferentially help those they know over mere strangers, and studies have shown that bystanders are more likely to intervene if the victim is a friend.
Today in Chapel Hill we can no longer take the safety of our community for granted. After this month’s sexual assault at Shortbread Lofts, many women are already relying on friends and neighbors to better ensure their safety. The means take different forms — sending a confirmation text at the end of the night, walking friends home or posting safety alerts on the Wildfire app — but their roots all lie in trust for the people we know in our communities.
To be clear, however, I want to avoid the implication that barbecues can fully mitigate sexual assault. Moreover, community connectedness cannot serve as a complete replacement for responsive and respectful law enforcement. But community cohesion, or the simple act of getting to know and trust your neighbors, has been linked to reductions in crime.
Community security is strengthened by positive neighborhood interaction, and more secure communities make it possible for increased high-quality interactions with our neighbors. This reinforcing cycle is facilitated by the creation and maintenance of trust.
Survey responses from NORC at the University of Chicago show a decline in our “trust in each other” from 48.1 percent in 1972 to 31.9 percent in 2014. This is cause for concern, as a higher level of trust within a community is good in and of itself. In many neighborhoods, trust is a major social determinant of health. Trust is necessary for social connectedness, and its presence is responsible for increased feelings of belonging and a more cohesive community.
Interaction with our neighbors positively affects our security, safety and health. There is something more fundamental to these interactions, though. Simply greeting each other with a salutation and a smile affirms our existence and helps to add meaning to our too-busy lives.
So, to the 2/3 of UNC students who live off campus — get to know your neighbors. Whether long-time Chapel Hill residents or transient students, we will all share a stronger, safer community if we simply make an effort to get to know one another.