Residents from the Heritage East and Quintessence neighborhoods gathered at Rotary Park Tuesday evening to celebrate National Night Out and to take a stand against crime. Albuquerque Police Department’s mounted patrol was on the scene along with members of the two neighborhood associations, representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and ABQ NeighborWoods.
Andrea Landaker, Quintessence Neighborhood Association president, said it is important for neighbors to meet in person and get to know each other better. “I love National Night Out because it’s a chance for the community to get to know each other and also for us to connect with community leaders. And most of all, free ice cream for everyone,” Landaker said.
Police officers played basketball and pickleball with the kids while officers atop the horses chatted with neighbors and posed for pictures. Residents passed out water and collected canned goods as part of a donation drive while others ordered food from 2 Guys 1 Grill or ate free ice cream.
“People don’t always sit on their porches and get to know their neighbors like they did in the old days, but with National Night Out we get a little bit of that same feeling,” Landaker said. Quintessence and Heritage East have been celebrating the event together for the last few years, which helps the neighborhoods to learn from each other.
“Heritage East has had a lot of great ideas. Sometimes we try and copy,” Landaker said. “They’ve got a ball box at the park and we’re like, ‘Oh maybe we should do that at our park.’ And then they come to our park and they’re like, ‘Oh, we love how you got these wood chips,’ or whatever for the playground and we can share what has worked with working with the city. A lot of our residents want the same types of things, so we can share and learn.”
Sara Fisher, representative for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was also sharing with and educating residents about strategies and programs to prevent impaired driving. She said MADD works closely with law enforcement and offers educational material for parents to keep kids from drinking or doing drugs. She said since Uber, Lyft and other rideshare companies started operating in Albuquerque there have been fewer DUIs, and that eventually new technologies will prevent drunk drivers from even starting a car. When someone is seen driving erratically or suspected of being intoxicated while driving, Fisher said, “Call 911.”
When asked what Quintessence residents have done to keep crime rates low in their neighborhood, Landaker said, “Well, we are not police officers, you know, we’re neighborhood association members, but we do try and connect our residents to the appropriate city department, whether it’s the sheriff’s office, or 242-COPS, or our city councilor, or APD has community outreach programs. So, we try to help connect them to the right department.”
Landaker said Neighborhood Watch groups can also be effective in fighting crime because it brings neighbors on the same street together to share what they see. “A lot of times if you post on NextDoor or something you’re sharing with the whole city. That’s not very helpful,” Landaker said. “You just want people that are right next to you, hyperlocal, which is what a Neighborhood Watch can do.”
Representatives from ABQ NeighborWoods were also at the park sharing information about their program, which provides free trees to residents. According to one of the information sheets they were passing out, “Albuquerque lost 2.7% of its tree canopy over a 3-year period, one of the highest losses in the country during the study.”
The ABQ NeighborWoods program is a collaboration between the city, U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico State Forestry, Tree New Mexico, local tree growers, neighborhood leaders, and local landscape architects to enhance the urban forest.
A recent presentation to the state’s Legislative Finance Committee by economics professor Jennifer Doleac explained that “planting more trees, and turning vacant lots into parks, has crime-reduction benefits.” The presentation handout says, “Exposure to heat increases violence” and that greening vacant lots can have the effect of “increasing foot traffic in the area, improving air quality, and reducing temperatures.”
For those attending National Night Out at Rotary Park, it was all about getting neighbors out to trade stories, getting to know each other better and having fun. “Just tell people to get to know their neighbors and enjoy themselves,” Landaker said.