Marvin Krout, the director of Lincoln's Planning Department, sent the police chief and me a link to a great story from the San Francisco Chronicle, about a guy named Dan who epoxied a two-foot tall statute of Buddha to a street median in his Oakland, CA neighborhood. Dan's not Buddhist, but he spotted the statue at the local Ace Hardware, and got a wild hair.
One thing led to another, and before long, a small shrine had been erected. Offerings began appearing, a few worshipers began worshiping in the morning, tourists began visiting, Anglo, black, and Vietnamese residents were meeting each other, and crime--which had plagued the neighborhood--went down like a rock.
What this story represents is the emergence in this neighborhood of collective efficacy: social cohesion among neighbors who are willing to work together for the common good. In my forty years of public safety service, I have seen over and over how collective efficacy is the key ingredient that separates a vibrant, safe neighborhood from one that is, well, sketchy.
Collective efficacy is independent of socio-economic status. I have seen some of the poorest areas of Lincoln where the willingness of people to work together to make things better was strong. Likewise, I've seen plenty of neighborhoods where income is high and housing is good, but the residents do not even know one another--much less work collaboratively to make things better.
You can create collective efficacy where little exists. You do so in big ways and small, by meeting your neighbors, by hosting a gathering on National Night Out or the Fourth of July, getting a few folks together to cover up graffiti,organizing a neighborhood watch group, recruiting others for a Saturday clean-up at the neigbhorhood park, painting the street, sitting on the front steps rather than the back patio, planting a flower in a cracked curb, and by gluing a Buddha to a barren median strip!
It's not rocket science, and it makes a huge difference to neighborhood wellbeing, and as in Dan's Oakland neighborhood, a positive impact on crime.