The young married couple next door have just had their first baby, the lady across the street gives music lessons and the family next door have recently renovated their bathroom…not exactly a close relationship.
For his book The Comfort of Things, anthropologist Daniel Miller interviewed residents of a southeast London street, and concluded that the street was now merely a “random juxtapositions of households”. Increasingly, where we ‘choose’ to live is driven by house prices, transport systems and proximity to work and leisure, rather than by personal relationships.
Perhaps we don’t have conversations over the garden fence with the neighbours any more, but we haven’t stopped having conversations. We’re in the digital age and in many ways we’re more connected than ever before. Just a quick analysis of my ‘social networks’ and I’m linked to some 900 people.
According to Australian TV, “Neighbours, should be there for one another”. But are we? Are there any real Harold Bishops out there?
Often, my starting point, rather than a definition, is to understand the evolution of a word, and I found that Neighbour is derived from “Neahgebur”, a mashup of Old English words for ‘near’ and ‘dweller’.
Community Resilience was touted, way before Big Society as a new paradigm in resilience. “Develop Community Flood Plans” cried central government…but I’m actually more likely to seek assistance from nearby friends and relatives, than I am the piano teacher in the house opposite (lovely as she may be). “Talk to each other about community emergency response” came another cry…I haven’t even met the people that live Preppers to one side of us, let alone talk to them, and I’ve been there for two years.
I have no doubt that individuals and communities should take action to prevent, prepare, respond and recover from emergencies, complementing the official response of the emergency services and other organisations. However, this the Community Resilience waters are cloudy! Geographic communities are comparatively easy to identify and liaise with, but they are, in my experience, less likely to be the networks used. Whilst more challenging, organic and distributed communities of interest or identity should be where we’re focusing our efforts.
Like all of us, I’m a member of multiple communities (family and friendship groups, colleagues, university alumni to name but a few), each of which have unique and complex relationships. The challenge, but also the approach which will bring the greatest benefit, to Resilient Communities work is to look at our conceptualisation of community, of what it means to be a neighbour, and then to approach each of those networks in a bespoke and relevant way.
Image Source: FreemantleMedia