Have you ever met your Shanghai neighbors? Not just shared an elevator with them, but properly gotten to know them? If, like us, you’ve never shared more than a simple nihao with the people on your floor, read Peter Loveheim’s [In The Neighborhood](http://www.peterlovenheim.com/). Though it takes place in suburban America, the book addresses feelings of isolation and loneliness that can resonate strongly with those living away from their home country.
In The Neighborhood documents a project Lovenheim embarked upon after a shocking murder / suicide changed the fabric of his community. Sandringham Road is “the most affluent, upper-crust street” in Rochester, New York, where Lovenheim grew up and then took over his parents’ house. However, aside from fleeting exchanges, he has never gotten to know the people on his street. He and his neighbors are “strangers detached from those living around them.” Sound familiar?
Spurred on by the tragedy, Lovenheim approaches his neighbors about sleeping over for a night to get to know them. The first to accept is Dr. Lou Guzzetta, a retired surgeon and widower. Lovenheim had been friends with Lou’s son, but now the elderly man lives alone, visited only by his relatives. Despite Lou’s claims that he does nothing with his life, the author integrates himself into the old man’s routine and comes to view him as a very close friend.
Through his sleepovers, Lovenheim discovers his neighbor’s small quirks that are invisible from the outside, such as elderly Grace Field’s collection of souvenir spoons. It is the author’s meeting with Grace that provides one of the book’s most poignant moments. She doesn’t live on Sandringham, but has used the street for her daily walks since the ’50s, earning her the nickname “The Walker.” Lovenheim regrets not having approached her sooner to welcome her into the community. Getting to know her, he finds that she is a classically trained harpist who studied at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. Revealing details like these make the book touching.
One of the most interesting sections of the book charts Lovenheim’s meeting with Jamie Columbus, a local realtor who is interested in psycho-geography. She explains that, in early civilizations, communities were structured as circles fanning out from a central meeting place or town square; nowadays, with grid layouts dominating town planning, we have lost that core. This is particularly relevant in Shanghai, where developers have razed the old shikumen and longtang communities, displacing their residents to sterile blocks outside of the city center.
The consequences of ignoring your neighbors come into sharp focus when Lovenheim gets to know the family of Renan Wills, the woman who was murdered by her suicidal husband Bob. Lovenheim comes to the painful conclusion that Renan’s life may have been spared if community links were stronger. Her mother Ertem comes to the painful conclusion that “to really know another person takes time, and we’re not willing to do that.” Next time you see your neighbors across the hall, invite them in for a cup of tea and a chat. Lovenheim said it best: “If we all cared about our neighbors, we could change the world one street at a time.”
What: [In The Neighborhood](http://www.peterlovenheim.com/)
Author: Peter Lovenheim
Buy: Available for RMB151 on [Taobao](http://www.taobao.com)