When most people think of safety or a safe street they tend to think of a place with low crime rates and when they consider how to make a street a safe place most think about the physical aspects of how a safe place is created i.e. tidy yards, shrubs pruned back, security screens, cars locked, doors to the house locked, security systems, CCTV, regular police patrols etc. Most of these are important ingredients in “target hardening” a location i.e. making it harder for a crime to be committed they can also add to feelings of insecurity and suspicion.
I would suggest that while the physical aspects of security are important the most essential ingrediane in making any place safe is to create social connection between those who use or live in that place. In the place where you live this is by being a good neighbour. These are the neighbours who try and connect other residents with each other and aim to be connected to others in the street. I doubt they would use these terms but it is what they do. Good neighbours are those who introduce themselves when someone new moves in, offer to ensure a neighbours letter boxes are cleared when they are away, greet other neighbours, keep an eye on what is happening in the street and say something if they notice something a liitle different. They are the ones who are involved in organising get togethers with others in the street, are often in their front yards and talking with whoever passes by, intervene when they observe children misbeahving. Good neighbours may also be involved in local organisations, participate ina local community garden or park maintenance group. basically, they are the people who create social capital amongst their neighbours and build trust between others.
The great thing about being a good neighbour is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort or commitment. It is as easy as starting a conversation with someone or inviting others around for a drink or organising a picnic in the local park. It is that simple. The result is an increase in collective efficacy and a safer place.
Our neighbour Ray is a perfect example of a good neighbour. Always up for a talk, ready to provide help, always tinkering in his garage and front yard. he knows most of the people in our street and helps to make the street safer just by being in his front yard. This presence, not only, works to create social connection with others but allows Ray to monitor the comings and goings in the street – a built in security monitor. We know Ray is home when his garage door is up. This reinforces the image that the street is safe from petty theft and that Ray is open to welcoming others into his yard.
Another example of a good neighbour is an old friend Steph. Steph and his partner live in an inner western suburb of Sydney. He is active in his garden and greets others as they pass by. Over a period of time he formed a friendship with an elderly gentleman who lived in the street. he would offer to shop for the gentleman and help where he could. He provided social connection for the man and ensured he was looked after. Recently, he struck up a conversation with a stranger in the street only to find that the person used to live in the street a number of years ago and was revisiting his childhood home. This chance conversation gave Steph an idea of the history of his house and the street, including details of those who had lived in the street in times gone by. This knowledge has created a deeper connection to the street.
There are a multitude of ways to be a good neighbour and help create a safe place. The City of Kwinana in Western Australia has created a great list of 52 things you can do to connect with your neighbours. This can be found at: https://www.kwinana.wa.gov.au/our-city/funding-and-grants/community-funding-program/Documents/52%20Ways%20to%20Connect%20with%20your%20Neighbours.pdf
The photo at the top of the page is from a photograph my father had of his old neighbourhood of Ellsmere Street, Goulburn, NSW. I’ve used this as it shows a place where people gathered together, knew each other and no doubt created a safe place for all.