Sleepovers, Community and Neighborhood

I was just reviewing my notes from an amazing workshop put on by our friends at Neighborhood Connections, the small-grants (but big-impact) program of the Cleveland Foundation. The presenter was Peter Lovenheim, author of the book “In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.” The book grew out of a gruesome murder-suicide that happened on the author’s quiet street. The murder-suicide made the author realize how little he knew about his neighbors and his neighborhood. To address this disconnect, he did something radical: He decided to ask his neighbors, politely, if he could sleep over.

For more on what ensued, visit Lovenheim’s website.

This made me think about how we often use the words “community” and “neighborhood” interchangeably. Technically, they mean two different things. People who share the same interests, passions, or hopes are part of a community. A pers on can be a member of several communities, which can include a book club, a gym, a professional affiliation, or a religious or spiritual group. A neighborhood is an immediate, shared geography. I live in a neighborhood.

What I have learned from the workshop and Neighborhood Connections is that something magical happens when you find community where you live. Something special is created when we share the same interests, hopes, and passions with the people we live next to. What a concept!

For some excellent examples of this idea, take a moment to look at the Neighborhood Connections Fall 2010 Grantees.