A view from Midtown // Urban life, in all its glory

The realities of urban life (life itself, really) were brought home abruptly this past week when I discovered we’d been burglarized in the night. The thieves entered our fenced yard, broke into the garage and walked off with two bikes in the middle of the night. This occurred at a home with exterior lights flooding the driveway, three people and a dog (admittedly, a basset hound) in the house. I think it was a crime of convenience, as they took what was easiest to remove from the garage. We live in a great neighborhood that has an active neighborhood association, but that doesn’t immunize us against crime.  

We’ve lived in big cities, suburbs, small towns, rural and almost wilderness areas, and all manner of crimes occurred in those locations, too.

Human nature in all its beauty and ugliness is part of every landscape. We love living in the city and know what to expect, but it’s very easy to become complacent about all the realities of urban life.  

There are small things we can do to reduce the chances of criminal activities. We may add a motion-activated light at the back of the house. We’ll be locking doors when an area is unattended. One thing I did the same day of the burglary was to talk to my neighbors. We have the advantage of having neighbors who talk to one another. We know their names, their kids’ names, and often their dogs’ names. We don’t have to know everything about everybody, but a level of familiarity with your neighbors generates a cohesiveness that expands way beyond your home. We’ve called each other once in a while to check and see if they know their garage door is up at dusk or if a fence gate is open and no one is around. Neighbors watch out for one another.

A close friend saw suspicious behavior around her neighbor’s garage (someone looking in the garage windows with a hammer in hand). She went out into her own yard making enough noise to be noticed and “checked the bird feeders” while holding her cell phone. The potential thief drove off immediately. A call to 911 may have resulted in the person being stopped, but she had small kids in her home and if she had tried to get a license number or vehicle description, she may have put herself a greater risk.  

When criminal activity affects you personally, it’s hard to keep things in perspective, but think about it: How long have you lived at your current location and how often have you been adversely affected by depreciative or criminal activities? Have you ever come out in the morning to drive to work and found you left a window open or forgot to lock it? Have you come home to find someone forgot to lock a door or left the garage door open, but nothing is missing?  

This latest event will not change our lives in any material way. We will certainly be more observant about securing doors and reducing the opportunities for easy thefts, but we won’t turn our property into a fortress or eye all unfamiliar people with suspicion. In many respects, this was a crime of convenience and we’re going to make it more and more inconvenient for thieves. We’ll continue to walk and bike regularly, we’ll continue to be good neighbors and we’ll continue to enjoy the great outdoor environment here in the Twin Cities.  

A good example of citizen action to keep a neighborhood safe is the Midtown Greenway Safety Patrol. The incidents and confrontations of this past winter and spring prompted neighbors and users of the Greenway to develop a citizen patrol to work with the Minneapolis Police and provide additional presence on the bikeway during the hours when most of the problems were occurring. The Greenway Coalition, Freewheel Bike, Trek, and the Midtown Exchange have assisted the patrol with equipment and services.  The Safety Patrol provides positive contacts with the greenway users, assists users if they have mechanical or other problems, and contacts law enforcement if suspicious behavior or activities are observed. The Safety Patrol continues and can use additional help, but it has generated results. Some perpetrators have been caught and the patrol presence has encouraged bikers to keep using the Greenway. As the number of Greenway users increases, the problems should decrease because too many people are watching. If you are interested in the Midtown Greenway Safety Patrol, contact the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

Let’s be better neighbors and citizens while building up our communities. Get in contact with your neighborhood group, think about walking or biking with some of your neighbors, and remember, National Night Out is coming. It’s a great way to meet new neighbors and to reconnect with old ones.  

Dan Breva is the manager of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center at the Midtown Exchange. He has bike commuted for more than 10 years.