There might not be a better way to get to know a neighborhood than to walk a dog through it. Walking through a neighborhood forces you to slow down and pay attention to things you would not otherwise notice while diving. And your dog brings attention to things that your brain might just edit out, like cable boxes and squirrels on fences. But neighborhoods where people walk their dogs regularly have another interesting characterstic, they just might be safer.
In New York, Central Park has an unwritten rule that dogs are allowed off their leashes (with their owners, of course) between 9pm and 9am. As a result, the Park has seen much less crime and is a far less dangerous place at night. It appears that people out, walking their dogs, tie streets and houses to the people living and walking them.
There is another thing about people and their dogs: they talk to each other. Upon passing each other on the street, dog owners at least wave and smile, and often stop to talk as their dogs greet each other. In this way, people meet their neighbors, and gain a sense of ownership in their community. I personally experienced a great example of this over the weekend.
An older gentleman was walking his dog through our neighborhood, even as I took my dog out the door for our afternoon stroll. He seemed a little confused and lost. After a brief discussion, I found out he was lost, and couldn't quite remember how to get back to the house where he was staying. My neighbor at the end of the street was helping him, and my other neighbor (also a dog owner) came by with his dogs to offer a hand as well.
I submit to you that it is highly unlikely that any of us would have gotten involved as quickly as we did if not for the dogs, which immediately went to investigate each other. As a result, our neighborhood helped this gentleman find his way home.