God Next Door II – The Lives of Ordinary Neighbourhood People Actually Do Matter Part II

Ok so the ramble continues…

From Innaloo I got married and moved to Glendalough for a couple of years early in our marriage. We lived in a 2 bed flat and then a 3 bed townhouse. Not quite inner city, but definitely high density living! As I look back it is surprising how close we can live and never connect. Not that I had time or interest anyway…

I was too busy being a pastor and running a church to even notice that there were people living nearby. Those first 4 years of marriage saw us move 3 times, with the final one being a house we built in Karrinyup – the place we intended to live for a loong time… We stayed 11 months before we sensed it was time to head up to Lesmurdie.

As a beachlover this was a very foreign place for me, but also a place I came to love. Big blocks, lots of trees and a sense of detachment from the rest of the city was all very nice. But the big blocks meant neighbourliness was lessened as we didn’t often see each other. Many people saw the hills as their ‘retreat’, so coming home after work they weren’t actually seeking to get involved in the community.

That said, the discrete village like nature of the community meant that there was a sense of community but (I am guessing) based more on shared location than relationship. Hills people are interesting. This was a middle-upper suburb, with plenty of very competent, confident people. They were generally very ‘nice’ people, and normal neighbourhood crime and vandalism was much less in this community.

Again I was way too busy with church to really connect with my neighbours (story here), but this time did propel me to a level of dissatisfaction. I became increasingly conscious that our church was a lovely bunch of people, but that most of us who were ‘seriously committed’ to it were not well connected locally. Ironically it was probably those who we (leaders) regarded as slack and at times uncommitted who were usually better connected.

I imagine there is always a balance with these things, but I was quite frustrated by my own tendency to get consumed with the tasks of church – the jobs I did well that usually brought me kudos. No one ever thought well of me for spending time working in the community or having a neighbour for a meal… but a good sermon!… Well now you’re talking.

I imagine a different person could have stayed in that place and worked thru the issues of disconnection and made some shifts. But I wanted to take a more emphatic approach. I wasn’t convinced that I could shift the centre of gravity of my life while still living in that community and working in that church. The church actually gave me permission to get more involved in the community, but sitting alongside the permission was also the unwritten expectation that nothing I was currently doing would suffer.

I do believe God called us to leave Lesmurdie, but at a much more human level I wanted to leave and experiment with church in a different form and in a different place.

Right up until this time I still don’t think I had paid much attention at all to the neighbourhood I was living in. Maybe there were occasional demographic analyses but there wasn’t a sense of buying in deeply.

So then came the move to Brighton and this is where I started to notice the place in which I was living. My first observation when we visited here 5 1/2 years ago was of a barren soul-less place – of the starkly unimaginative look of suburbia – that despite all the efforts of the developer and the house designers to create a vibe.

The ‘vibe’ was distinctly clean, neat and stark in every way. As much as the ads told us ‘its Brighton – what a community should be!’ I think we knew that it was only the kind of community that we chose to make it.

In those early days when everyone was moving into the street there were many spontaneous connections and more than a few street parties. We were responsible for a fair swathe of them as we sought to reverse the trend we had lived with for so long our whole lives. We were operating from the understanding that we ‘live ourselves into a new way of thinking’ rather than ‘thinking our way into a new way of living’.

We did manage to develop a significant feeling of community in our street, but we also observed that after the initial year people ‘settled’ into routines and while we were friendly with each other no one was taking the time to organise the parties, or if they did happen they clashed with other social activities that each of us had on.

For the first few years we were in Brighton the suburb had that new car feel smell about it. Everything was bright and shiny and lawns and gardens hadn’t had the chance to get overgrown. However a growing number of property investors meant that rental properties increased and care of gardens decreased. The kids also grew up and started to want things to do. In the absence of something useful to do they would graffiti or fight. In the last year violence and crime have increased dramatically in this supposedly idyllic little suburb.

For those who stand at a distance I am sure the stunning lakes and parklands are still enticing and seem to speak of a place of beauty and tranquility., but for those of us who live here its just a suburb – a suburb at the end of the line with limited social services and infrastructure – and a growing number of young people who have little to do.

It has also become increasingly transient with around 10% of the houses in the suburb currently up for sale. In our street of 12 houese there have lived 24 different families. I used to know everyone in the street, but a family have lived directly across from us now for 6 months and we have not spoken other than to say a brief hello.

As the street has settled and as neighbours have come and gone there has been a decrease in the desire of all of us to get to know the new people, especially those in short term rental situations. (They are only going to bugger off again!)

As I write there are 4 of left from the originals who bought into the street, but one of those 4 had a real estate agent around yesterday to get a valuation as they have bought closer to the city.

While there is little to get inspired about here, I do feel a strong sense of connection and ownership of this community. I’m sure part of it flows out of my sense of calling, but I’m sure part of it is that I have finally stopped being so busy leading a church and taken the time to really get connected with those we live amongst.

So here I am now in this strange suburb… a disproportionately high number of ‘fly in fly out’ workers, over 50% of the community born outside Oz (mostly UK and SA) and many people working themselves to the bone to make the payments on the enormous mortgage they now have.

Making connections in suburbia is certainly not easy – and its harder for blokes.

The pace of life and the ‘privatopia’ mentality means people may want to connect, but they either lack the time or the desire to get beyond their front door. And then just as you do get to know people they move…

You can understand why many just can’t be bothered.

Anyway, thats a little of my experience of neighbourhood. I could write much more on the current experience, as it the only one I have actually taken the time to reflect on, but if you are interested to know more then you can trawl my archives!

In the next few posts I will return to the book and chew thru some of what Simon has to say…

3 thoughts on “God Next Door II – The Lives of Ordinary Neighbourhood People Actually Do Matter Part II

  1. Hamo, I have enjoyed reading you reflections the last few days. It will be interesting to see what comes of them in about 3 or 4 months times. I can’t help but think there might be a book in this?

  2. Interesting parallels. Our main motivation for moving was that we needed more house space with an extra child on the way. We also missed the interaction with neighbours – when you move into an established suburb it can be very hard to ‘break-in’ to the community already there. Moving in to Butler we were all in the same boat and we were determined to make connections.

    Our street has fared a little better with only one house changing hands and that went from being a rental to owner occupied so it has stabilised even more.

    I’ve noticed that local crime and graffiti decreased down our way over Christmas and New Year – against the expected trend. I wonder who left the suburb?

  3. Hamo, similar observations here in Ellenbrook, although, I’d guess, they’re working on the infrastructure more. But I just haven’t bothered to get to know my neighbours, not my immediate ones at least (the kids do better on that front).

    We’re a fairly geographically distinct community, so I’ve opted to get involved in one or two community groups (at various times). It’s local, a natural connection with shared interests, people are there because they want to meet like minded people.

    Not that revival has broken out or anything. But I wonder if we need to think about neighbourhood differently.

    But YMMV where you are.

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