After a murder in his neighborhood, writer Peter Lovenheim decided that he needed to become closer to his neighbors. So he packed up his sleeping bag and invited himself over for a sleepover.
"According to social scientists, from 1974 to 1998, the frequency with which Americans spent a social evening with neighbors fell by about one-third. Robert Putnam, the author of "Bowling Alone," a groundbreaking study of the disintegration of the American social fabric, suggests that the decline actually began 20 years earlier, so that neighborhood ties today are less than half as strong as they were in the 1950s.
Why is it that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don't know the people who live next door?
Maybe my neighbors didn't mind living this way, but I did. I wanted to get to know the people whose houses I passed each day - not just what they do for a living and how many children they have, but the depth of their experience and what kind of people they are.
What would it take, I wondered, to penetrate the barriers between us? I thought about childhood sleepovers and the insight I used to get from waking up inside a friend's home. Would my neighbors let me sleep over and write about their lives from inside their own houses?"