At Idealist, we believe the world is full of good ideas that don’t spread quickly enough. The Idea File is a feature where we give quick glimpses of ideas that seem fun, powerful, and potentially replicable — plus some things you might want to consider if you decide to take on a similar project. If you have an idea that addresses a community need, and you think others should know about it, leave a comment below and we’ll take a look.
People in my neighborhood joke that we’re more likely to know each others’ dogs’ names than the names of our human neighbors. We don’t often hear people shouting “Get your toy, Charlie” to husbands or wives. But “Come now, Spot!” is a pretty familiar refrain.
One solution: a simple sketch map that covers the houses up and down the block, or the units in an apartment or condo building, or whatever makes sense for the area.
Why we’re adding it to the Idea File:
Neighborhood maps are useful for all sorts of things besides helping get neighbors’ names straight when you pass on the street. They make it easier to call people together if there’s a need for cooperation on a task. They let neighbors pass the word along if someone is sick or needs help for some other reason. And combined with a block watch, a neighborhood map can reduce both opportunities for and fears about break-ins and other crimes.
How you can replicate it:
A neighborhood map can start small. It can have spaces for all the houses on the block, but only a few names or numbers filled in. Usually, once the project gets going, neighbors want to have a copy to stick up on the fridge or next to the phone and they’re happy to provide the information about their own households. Of course there may be some neighbors who don’t want to be included at all; it’s fine just to show just the house or apartment number and no further details. Some neighborhood maps include lots of information: kids’ birthdays, pets’ names, email addresses, and cell phone numbers. Others just stick to the basics, maybe even just the house and phone numbers.
There may already be a block watch program in your community. If so, you may want to work with the existing group when creating your neighborhood map. In any case, there may be local resources that can offer advice and a format for putting together a map and doing other easy projects to make the neighborhood safer and a nicer place to live. Checking in with the police department or other municipal offices may lead to useful tips about how to proceed; the Tuscon, Arizona, Police Department has a sample (PDF) with some explanation.
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]