As metropolitan populations expand and more people fill inner-city apartment blocks, it’s surprising that more people don’t know their neighbours. But with longer working hours and privacy concerns playing their part, there’s a good chance many people don’t know their next-door neighbours at all.
“Community connection has a large impact on how people feel about their lives,” says Professor Robert Cummins of Deakin University and author of The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. “When people don’t know the people living around them, they don’t feel as safe.”
Released in January 2009, the Index found that people who live in regions with relatively small populations have a greater sense of belonging and safety, two factors which contribute significantly to their wellbeing.
“In some of Australia’s biggest cities, friendly gestures such as smiling at a neighbour or greeting the postman are becoming rarities. With so much crime regularly reported in the media, it’s no wonder that many of us fear and mistrust the people in our own neighbourhoods more than perhaps we should,” says Mark Norton, General Manager of ADT Security, one of Australia’s largest providers of 24 hour monitored home security systems.
Yet with police crime strategists anticipating home burglary rates to rise as a result of the economic downturn 1 and the Australian Institute of Criminology recognising a relationship between unemployment and home burglary incidence 2 , Norton says it remains vitally important that homeowners maintain good relationships with neighbours.
“Your street doesn’t have to resemble Wisteria Lane – far from it – but there are many benefits to be gained from having a good relationship with your neighbours. For one, it helps build a sense of community at a time when many people, particularly the vulnerable and the elderly, feel lonely and isolated. Beyond this, it has also been shown that vigilant neighbours can significantly reduce the risk of your home being burgled when you’re away.”
Currently there are a number of community initiatives including Neighbourhood Watch, Know Your Neighbour Week and Neighbour Day designed to assist Australians in improving their relationship with the people next door - and with good motivation.
“In my opinion the safest and most secure communities in Australia are the ones in which people know their neighbours. They know who to call in the event of an emergency, they know when their neighbours are on holidays and they are aware of any work being done on their neighbour’s property. In short, they are better able to identify and report suspicious activity. Strangers may ignore the warning signs, good neighbours don’t,” says Norton.
ADT Security has compiled the following tips to help homeowners break down the ‘picket fence’ and make their neighbourhoods more secure.
- Introduce yourself to your neighbours and make a special effort to introduce yourself to older residents in your street and anyone who lives alone.
- Organise a street party to help get to know your neighbours.
- For those living in an apartment block, try organising a barbecue on the common area. Use the foyer message board to spread the word about social activities and attend building meetings to meet other residents.
- Coordinate a street garage sale, inviting your neighbours to contribute goods.
- Join your children in walking to school or catch the bus; it’s a great way to meet other local families.
- Advise your neighbours on what steps to take if they hear your home alarm sounding and exchange phone numbers for use in an emergency if you feel comfortable doing so.
- If you see your neighbour’s garbage bins out long after rubbish collection time, move them to a less conspicuous place so it does not advertise to passers-by that they are not at home. While having good neighbours can enhance feelings of safety, ADT Security reminds homeowners there is no substitute for locking up, installing an alarm and taking other security measures.