Robbie Maltby

April 17, 2021

Communities & Neighbourhoods

The term 'Community' is laced with connotations - some positive, some not.

The word can bring to mind Communism, and for many reasons put a chill down our spine.

There's the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who have social scoring for their citizens. There's the relationship to the word 'cult' and the cultist communities who drank the Kool-Aid and ended up dead.

Then there's the hippy type image of people living in communes. A kind of radical cohabitation experience that seems a tad weird to most.

Of course we're all part of communities, and there's a huge benefit in having them. A country, a city, or a town is a community. And you have the ability to contribute anonymously, for example by voting, or by discussing things or gathering opinions on a wider scale.

To be in community is also to commune (the verb) with one another; to break bread, share stories, and spend quality time.

The connotations of the word Neighbourhood are a bit different.

These are people you see regularly. People who's life you know something about. They usually live near you, or occupy a private space online, like a (truly) private messaging group.

Neighbours aren't necessarily family or good friends though. You wouldn't have a neighbour round every night for dinner, and you probably wouldn't invite them on holiday. But they do have a grounding force. They add meaning to the place you call home. They're part of your garden, which you tend unconsciously, but which gives you enormous satisfaction.

I recently moved to Dubai to join my sisters after our mum died last year. By accident I kicked the football over the garden wall and after waiting a while (to see if they were going to throw it back) I decided to knock their door and ask.

An hour later I returned with my 2 year old nephew having being served Turkish coffee and pastries, and meeting the whole extended Jordanian family: Mum, dad, kids, uncles, aunties, nieces, nephews - the lot.

Whenever I go round to my sisters that side of the garden just feels a little more protected, a little softer now I know who's behind it. It's a lovely feeling having nice neighbours.

It feels like the word 'community' has become an amorphous term. It's too big. It's impersonal. You don't really know what you're getting.

We can all tap into a community online for example, but we don't even have to reveal our true identities so we can't expect that same grounding sense of being seen and known to people around us.

I remember reading a study a few years ago which showed that people living in neighbourhoods where walking and cycling were the norm (compared with driving) were happier - partly just because they could see and acknowledge each other passing by with a simple "Hello".

That's often enough. To be acknowledged. Neighbours don't need to be your confidantes, mentors, or students, but they often end up being those things due to the trust that builds up between you by knowing about each other, and observing each other's actions over a period of time.

We need both but I've got a feeling spending more time with neighbours is going to make us happier.

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