Who is my neighbour?


Do you know the names of the people who live next door? Would you recognise your neighbours if you saw them at the local shopping centre?

Growing up in the suburbs of Perth, I knew most of the people in our street. We didn’t live in each other’s pockets but there was a great sense of community, children playing with those from across the road and up the street, tea and biscuits or maybe a beer together for the adults. It was relatively common to be sent to a neighbour’s house to ask for an ingredient or two if mum discovered she’d run out half way through a recipe, with neighbours dropping in from time to time to borrow a cup of sugar or whatever else they needed.

Things have certainly changed.

A survey of a thousand Australians, conducted by Jigsaw Research on behalf of Nabo, a social network for neighbourhoods and communities, recently revealed more than 50% of Aussies aren’t connected with their neighbours beyond a chat over the fence. Less than 30% are know their neighbours’ phone number or email. The research also revealed that those who spend more time on social media platforms spend less time with their neighbours, and find it more challenging to reach out to them.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Nabo’s founder and chief executive, Adam Rigby, pointed out that while there’s a desire to know our neighbours, we’re just not that good at it.

It typically takes about five years for people to properly get to know their neighbours, Mr Rigby said, often developing over a series of minor exchanges while taking out the bins or coming home from work. But modern families were often too busy to make these connections, he said, and moves toward higher-density living reduced the opportunities for neighbours to meet.

Mr Rigby also pointed to safety concerns among those who were alienated from their neighbourhood. The research found almost one in three women did not feel safe walking down their street, while 76 per cent of respondents said knowing their neighbours better made them feel more secure.

These days we find garage doors opening, cars disappearing inside, then the door closing again as those around us enter their secret worlds. Sure, we wave if we’re leaving our houses at the same time, but most of the time we don’t really know who we’re waving at.

I know some of our neighbours but most might as well be living on the other side of the world. Come to think of it, there are many people living half way around the world that I know far better than those around me. I wouldn’t recognise them if we met on the street and I certainly wouldn’t be invited over for a coffee.

So is this trend a concern or do we just do life differently these days? Do we prefer to live in a community that expects little from us and in which we expect little from others? If someone a few houses away really needed help would they feel confident to approach me? Would I feel confident knocking on their door in an emergency?

It’s been said that good fences make good neighbours, but is it time for some of those fences to come down?

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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