Our neighborhoods are the primary source of our health. How long we live and how often we are sick is determined by our personal behavior, our social relationships, our physical environment and our income. As neighbors, we are the people who can change these things. Scientists agree that community health initiatives are the most powerful forms of ensuring health, whereas professional care accounts for less than 10% of what will allow us to be healthy.
Care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another. As neighbors, we care for each other. We care for our children. We care for our elders. And it is this care that is the basic power of a community of citizens. Care cannot be provided, managed or purchased from systems. Our way is made possible by the power to care. Democracy is the way we care for our freedom and responsibility.
Whether we are safe and secure in our neighborhood is largely within our domain. Many studies show that there are two major determinants of our local safety. One is how many neighbors we know by name. The second is how often we are present and associate in the public space outside our houses. Police activity is a minor protection compared to these two community actions. This is why most informed police leaders advocate for block watch and community policing.
Part of our domain as neighbors is the production of the food we eat. So we are allied with the local food movement, supporting local farmers and markets. In this way, we will be doing our part to solve the energy problem caused by transportation of food from continents away. We will be doing our part to solve our economic problems by circulating our dollars locally. And we will be improving our health by eating food free of poisons and petroleum.
In our towns and neighborhoods, we have the power to build a resilient economy. Most enterprises begin locally — in garages, basements and dining rooms. As neighbors, we have the local power to decide how and where we spend, to nurture and support these businesses, so that they have a viable market. We are also the most reliable sources of jobs, as word-of-mouth among neighbors and friends is still the most important access to employment.
The care of the natural environment is a major local responsibility. How we transport ourselves, how we heat and light our homes and how much waste we create is a major factor in the overall health of our communities and our world . In caring for the environment, neighbors are called to be citizens and stewards of the earth and not just consumers of its natural resources.
We all say that it takes a village to raise a child. And yet, we often pay for others to raise and transport our children. Our villages have often become useless; our neighbors responsible for neither their children nor ours. As a result, everywhere we talk about the local “youth problem.” There is no “youth problem.” There is a village problem of adults who have forgone their responsibility and capacity to join their neighbors in raising the young.
From voting to speaking with your local council representative about issues facing your neighborhood, your voice matters in the political and social process. Civic participation also includes giving back to your community through involvement with a local non-profit, business, or faith-based organization. It is within a neighborhood's power to change both political and social decisions simply by being involved.