Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Neighbourhood groups ~ strategies for healthy communities

You can choose your home but not usually your neighbours, so it's fortunate that most people are pleasant.  Knowing the neighbours is an important part of our sense of belonging and security.  If we know our neighbours we can derive support and companionship from each other as well as helping each other out in practical ways.  It also means that we are likely to be able to settle any differences that arise in a more straightforward manner than if we didn't know them at all.  I also find that I'm more tolerant of people that I know than of people that I don't know: I know I can sort things out with them if I need to.

Where we live at present our neighbours are mostly friendly, one might even say unusually so: within a week of our arrival I knew the names of the people living in the nearest six households and have since meet quite a few others.  When I'm working in the garden I often chat with whoever else is outside, exchanging news and views.  The sharing of vegetables, plants, and the lending and borrowing of one thing and another is also commonplace.  I like all that and appreciate the goodwill that flows with it.

Neighbourhood and street groups:
In some neighbourhoods this communication and sharing has been taken to another level again: I was delighted to read about the Condell Community in Christchurch, in this article "On-line list puts street in touch" published in The Press (15th May 2010).  They are a street group which is organised not only to help people to get to know each other, but which also utilizes an internet-based website to enable people to easily be contact with each other, often over practical matters such as the sharing of surpluses and resources.  Not surprisingly, they have also found that a united approach to any local problems has been very effective.  Local resident, John Veitch, provided the leadership and vision which got the group going. 

In the later article, "Going local on the web" also published in The Press (24th August 2010) the topic of on-line street communities is discussed further: at that time three  were identified in the Christchurch area and information is given about how to set up a free website for that purpose.  John Veitch emphasises that such communities take time and effort to get established.  I think this is how it should be: communities don't just happen: they are built  by individuals reaching out to each other; familiarity and trust accrue gradually over time. 

Neighbourhood support groups with their focus on neighbourhood security, in which everyone must have a vested interest, are probably a good way to start: we all want to live in safe streets.  In these schemes neighbours look out for each others security, noting any unusual or suspicious comings and goings.  Such groups have achieved notable success in the reduction of burglaries and other local crimes.

I would very much like to participate in such a scheme, but I'd need to know that I could count on the support and commitment of those in other households to go the distance with me.  In the past I've too often been left doing hard work of a leadership nature pretty much alone when I've continued to persevere with aspects which have turned out to be difficult and sometimes unpleasant.  This has meant that undertakings that should have been supportive have ended up undermining me.

Strength in diversity:
Although I have often wanted simply to move away from disturbing influences I am not in favour of isolationist communities.  I don't see that as the answer.  No matter how ideal ones setting there are always issues which crop up which need to be addressed and which can be unpleasant; we're all human.  And there are benefits from living in communities which are a mixture of this and that, in which one is obliged to accept a measure of give and take.  Strength is much more likely to arise from diversity than through a monoculture - if good sense and sound leadership prevail!

Intentional communities:
A concept that does interest me very much is the idea of 'intentional communities', such as Earthsong in Auckland, and the Community Land Trust Project near Wairoa.  These are two I know of in a New Zealand context.  Most communities consist of multiple independent households of people living very scattered lives, with scant involvement in achieving collective good, where commitment to 'saving the planet' (of all foolish expressions) is likely to be limited to whether or not to put a plastic bottle in the rubbish bound for the landfill or into a recycling bin.  This just isn't enough for me.  It's only through collective commitment and action that anything meaningful is going to be achieved.  

To share in the creation and development of a community with a goal of living in a more wholesome way seems an excellent idea!  If anyone knows of one in the south of the South Island, let me know!

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