My neighbourhood has come alive these past couple of weeks.
The roads are busy with humans and happy dogs. People pause to look at things that catch their eye and to chat with their fellow walkers and bikers, and people out in their gardens. All at a safe and respectful distance, which has so quickly become our new norm. I’m proud of our neighbourhood for that overly-cautious distance, often spanning the width of the road, but I’m perhaps even more proud of the stopping and talking and getting to know each other – it’s one of the most important things that will come out of this all, I think.
I have noticed this new openness amongst us. We’re openly joyful and appreciative of the opportunity to connect with each other – it’s as if we have remembered how much we need each other.
Our family sent out a letter to the other residents of our road at the beginning of the lock down. None of our neighbours said they needed any help, but over the last few days emails have been going back and forth and we’re getting to know all sorts of things about each other. I had thought we were a pretty connected street before, but I realise now that we’d only just begun.
Everywhere in our neighbourhood there’s evidence of people getting stuck into their Things to Do lists: People stacking firewood, pruning trees, weeding, people just being outside, because they know they need it for their own sanity.
Everywhere, there are teddy bears and other small creatures peeking out through windows. They are signs of our unity, our kindness and encouragement towards each other. Some are holding bottles of wine and signs, one down our road has a giant pumpkin as its princely bed.
Without all the cars, you can hear the leaves, starting to crackle and colour up, rustle in the wind. You could probably almost hear them land on the ground if you tried. You can even hear the distant roar of the ocean some days, even though there’s a hill between us.
A few days ago I met my favourite bird for the first time ever; a bird whose song I have listened to my whole life, but whom I have never ever managed to catch sight of, no matter how hard and often I have looked. A few days ago I opened our front door and there it was – a Riroriro, or Grey Warbler, singing its song so nonchalantly, as if it didn’t even know it’s the most abiding sound track to my life.
It was one of those moments I tell myself I’ll never forget, just as it feels as if none of us will surely forget this extraordinary moment in time – confined as we are to our homes, our bubbles, our neighbourhood, and the reaches of our own minds.
I’m not sure whether my memories of this time will sustain or not, filled as it is with the simplest of things. The rustling leaves, the smiling conversations across our street, watching the kids try out new tricks on their bikes and the rope we’ve slung up in a tree, if we’ve managed to get them both out of their pyjamas and the house that is..usually by lunchtime, but not always.
Whether I remember this time, or not, right now I am so grateful that this neighbourhood is my home, and the people in it, my neighbours.
When I ran for council, I was pretty shocked at how much power we give to Government.
We make ourselves powerless in so many ways – by outsourcing our food and water, relying on local government to do the best they can with the limited resources they have: Fix the environment, fix our waterways, house the homeless… But keep our rates down!
The way this situation plays out, it makes it really hard to achieve meaningful change. We just expect too much to be done for us. It’s important that we ourselves become more active and work together to solve some of these issues ourselves.
So our first action should be to take back some of that power. A really good way of doing that is within our neighbourhoods …
““If we are to save our cities we must revitalise our neighbourhoods first””
— U.S. PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER, 1976
Those who were around in the pre-screen days will reminisce about knowing their neighbours well. Kids biked from place to place and everyone knew where all the kids were because there was a pile of bikes outside little Susie’s house. Most houses were built with front porches because without a tv, parents would sit on the front porch and watch the kids play, enjoy the well-kept front gardens and socialise with their neighbours.
Society was set up for neighbours, but not so much now. We are all strangers in our own streets and really we should be asking ourselves what this means for the next generation. I’m sad for my children who don’t explore the neighbourhood with friends, that there’s no more after school games at the local park, all play is under an adults watchful gaze. I miss how alive the streets are with kids playing. I’m worried that our children are almost prisoners in their own homes. Why should the next generation care about the wider world if they’re increasingly being excluded from it?
I’m thinking a lot about the relevance and the need for “neighbourhood organisations”. Not just online ones, but real-life opportunities for the community to come together.
There are a few organisations in Gisborne – Ka Pai Kaiti and E tu Elgin, for example. In the run up to last years’ elections E tu Elgin hosted GDC candidates to discuss the issues they were facing, such as the absence of playgrounds in Elgin, as well as both Cobham and Elgin schools seeming to be teetering on the brink of closure.
It was exciting for me to see people engaging in the political process through their neighbourhood organisation. This is where change can begin to happen. When people come together, we can begin to fix some of our own problems collectively. What could be achieved if all neighbourhoods had their own organisation? I started researching…
These tips came from an online journal:
HOW TO START A NEIGHBOURHOOD ORGANISATION:
Use people’s immediate interest to organise people to act on a specific, local, winnable issue on a seemingly one-time basis
The victory when won, creates a sense of efficacy
Allows the organiser to start people working on other issues
I messaged the organiser of the successful “Wainui Beach Community” group that has around 1300 members and a large group of active participants. I asked her how she created hers, to which she replied with the following:
“I started the page by adding about 25 people whom I knew lived in Wainui and encouraged them to tell their friends & family. Whether they did, I’m not sure. It took a while to get people to start engaging & posting (a couple months!) but it started and has since kept going. It’s mostly been organic”
With the possibility of coronavirus on the horizon, this seems like as good a time as any to take that first step in getting to know our neighbours, other people on our street, if we don’t already. If people in our neighbourhood do have to go into isolation over the coming weeks or months, do they have someone to bring them food or other supplies if they run short? The simple exchange of phone numbers could be as much as required, but let’s make this an opportunity to bring together our fractured communities and show each other we care.
If you live in Inner Kaiti, have a look for the Inner Kaiti Community I have started on Facebook and if you live elsewhere, the process can be as simple as a simple letterbox drop or door knock, or of course, Facebook. You might just want to stick with the people who live on your street, or a section of your road, if it’s a big one.