What does it mean to be scared of your own community?
The Seattle Times recently did a study that looked at perceived crime and actual crime in Seattle's different neighborhoods. Good news, friends, Beacon Hill, the Seattle neighborhood I currently reside in, has half of the crime rate as the city-wide average. Bad news, my neighbors think our neighborhood is far more dangerous than it is.
The Times doesn't really dive into why "mean world syndrome" exists. For Beacon Hill, it's our changing landscape and gentrification. It's white people moving from traditionally white neighborhoods to a traditionally (in this case) Asian neighborhood. (By the way, when you see "traditionally" read, "segregated housing put in place by red lining and other racist housing policies.") It's the (white) people on NextDoor suggesting people call the cops on every, single freaking thing; we're going to have our own Permit Patty situation soon enough. I'm surprised I haven't been banned from NextDoor for telling them not to call the cops.
It's also that while we may not have major crime — we do have a lot of graffiti and litter. Plus, some of the houses in our neighborhood need some TLC. (Which again, we can talk about who owns them and wealth systems like refinancing mortgages for repairs. But also, sometimes you gotta pick the garbage up in front of your house and those around you as no one else will.)
As a community builder, I look at these issues as a "get to know your neighbor and where you live problem." It's a community problem. When we don't feel connected, we cannot see our neighbors as people — who just go about their own businesses and have their own problems, like everyone else — and instead, see them as 'other.' This problem is exacerbated by gentrification, the statistical significance of white people largely only having white friends, the self-fulling prophecy known as the Seattle Freeze, and Seattle's homeless problem.
Connecting with our communities means we're less likely to have Permit Patty situations. Knowing our neighbors means that when times of struggle happen, we can support each other. It means we can also accurately assess danger or at least unusual circumstances. It means we accept everyone in our community — from the elderly person who's lived here for 40 years, to the young couple, to the renters, and yes, even the person who lives in a tent on the side of the freeway. You don't get to choose who's in your community, and you're actually better off, if you don't try to force people out.
Turns out, we're living in a pretty toxic time when it comes to what's happening in our world and how it's presented on the news. And the safer we are in our communities — like Beacon Hill — the more likely we are to actual filter the greater national or international threats to our security onto our neighborhood.
My mother visited recently, and we went on a long walk around my neighborhood. She told me how she's been trying to walk more. But how two of her lady neighbors were very concerned about my mom walking at night by herself. I couldn't help but then dissect her neighbors' unjustified paranoia.
First, my mom's neighborhood is in Arizona. It's about five miles wide, and is a planned 55 and older area around a golf course. Her voting district by design is 85% white.The neighborhood is literally surrounded by a wall "to keep the coyotes out." Additionally, my mom isn't walking alone. She has her dog. Her dog is an 85 pound German Sheppard. Super unsafe.
How do we do this kind of community and neighborhood building where we counter the unreality of these feelings? In my own neighborhood, we could arrange block parties, or clean up parties to pick up trash. (Funnily, you know what causes more littering to happen? Litter.) What do you do in a homogeneous neighborhood like my mom's? You get out of where you live and volunteer elsewhere to meet people unlike yourself. When people aren't strangers any longer, they cease to be scary.
It may sound like lofty ideals, or like I'm pushing community building. But the larger truth is — this paranoia of being unsafe when we are safe, it leads to people looking for authoritarian guidance, and if one political party fills itself with homogeneous people, then an outbreak of civil war during a crisis is more likely than if political parties are internally diverse.
We have a lot of problems as a society, but suspicion of our neighbors shouldn't be one of them. Dear readers, I urge you to learn the names of your neighbors this week. Go on a walk. Sit out on your porch. Say hello.