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A modern village
I’ve just had first-hand experience of what it might be like to live in a brand new suburb, so new it doesn’t have a postcode yet, let alone a post office. We were invited into a bright, shiny new house, flooded with sunshine and illuminated by the presence of a lovely new baby. It was a house such as many people in Australia – renters and the homeless – could only dream of. The suburb underscores the abandonment of the Australian dream: the quarter-acre block with space for chooks and a vegie
garden, complete with a Hills Hoist. These houses have no room for an outside clothes line, and perhaps there is neither the time nor the inclination to carry a basket of wet clothes and hang them out to dry in the sun. Their laundries will all have a clothes dryer.
In this new landscape, setbacks have been reduced to a minimum, lot sizes are under 400 square metres, and house walls are hard up against those of the neighbours.
I was told this is what people want – a zero-maintenance environment: no lawns to mow, no gardens to look after. Perhaps they also want an environment with absolutely zero opportunities for community: no shops, schools, GPs, pharmacies, servos, post offices, and
a bare minimum of parks. There are however kilometres of concrete footpaths, good for strolling or pushing a pram or walking the dog, if dogs are allowed in such pristine surroundings.
Each house is entire unto itself. Each has a garage or a carport.
If this is what people truly want, well and good. But it will come at a cost additional to that of acquisition, especially in times of lockdowns and pandemics, and we will need to build community defences against isolation and loneliness. The suburb is all hard surfaces: roofs, footpaths and roads. I hope it is well drained because the run-off will be enormous, ending up in the wetland behind the Kingston Hotel and overflowing onto the Channel Highway and thence to the golf club and Browns River. I would not want to live down-stream of such a development.
But many people do. The overriding prescription seems to have been to pack in as many individual dwellings as the landscape will bear. No terrace houses, no family compounds. Where were the
town planners?
We are undergoing the consequences of more than one epidemic. There is Covid, of course. But in its train comes the social isolation which is the inevitable concomitant of lockdowns and closures. We may be living through one of those periods in history when the prescribed remedies may do more harm than the consequences of the phenomena which they are designed to circumvent.
Certainly those misguided souls who protest in the name of freedom have some justification for their concerns if not
their actions.
One of those consequences is a deep and abiding sense of unease. Another is
individual isolation, a consequence of lockdown and social distancing.
As a species, we are defined by our relationships with others. The quality and quantity of these directly affect how we behave, how happy we are, even how long we might live. Deprived of these, our spirit withers. It can happen to anyone at any stage of life: the young and the aged are two groups which may currently be suffering more than most. A predisposition to loneliness may be affected by physical and mental health, education level, employment status, wealth, ethnicity, gender and age.
The challenge for the individuals who will be living in these new subdivisions will be to overcome the inherent segregation, and to establish the childcare groups, the clubs and associations which will overcome the loneliness pandemic. It will be important to involve the communities in the development of shared activities, which must evolve organically.
They cannot be imposed by officialdom. In England during the war, there was an entity called Mass Observation whose job it was, not to spy on individuals, but to measure how they responded to the challenges of living in
a wartime environment. An enlightened government, if that is not
a contradiction in terms, might undertake such a task in the adverse environments in which each of us finds themselves today. What we might learn would better enable us to respond to the challenges of future pandemics and the exigencies of climate change.
Meanwhile in the brand new suburb, when the casseroles in the gleaming new kitchens start to acquire marks of ownership as they migrate from house to house, we will know it has become
a community.
John Fleming II

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