When someone in your church sends you a news article like this one then you know that you’re living in the same headspace.
This is an interesting article on what makes neighbourhoods ‘work’ and what makes them happy places to be. It comments on the ‘new urbanism’ that considers different types of design as ways of facilitating community, but it also makes this observation:
But while New Urbanism is making strides at the level of the neighborhood, we still spend most of our time at home, which today means seeing no one other than our nuclear family. How could we widen that circle just a bit? Not a ‘60s commune (“pass the brown rice, comrade, and don’t forget your shift cleaning the toilet ”), but good neighbors with whom we share more than a property line.
Great question. I’d agree that the nuclear family does still dominate the landscape for most of us, whether we like it or not.
The article cites Seattle architect Ross Chapin’s book:
Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating a Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World as having some valuable insights.
One of Chapin’s observations is:
Groupings of four to twelve households make an ideal community “where meaningful ‘neighborly’ relationships are fostered.” But even here, design shapes our destiny. Chapin explains that strong connections between neighbors develop most fully and organically when everyone shares some “common ground”.
That figure of 4-12 families has an ‘oikos’ / household feel about it. Small enough for people to be known and yet substantial enough to be able to help one another and allow for a diversity of relationships. Its about is about the size of what I would imagine an ideal church community would be… the size of an extended family.
The way neighbourhoods connect (or stay separate) has been one of my personal fascinations over the last 10 years. I reckon we made some great progress then hit some curly obstacles (people fighting and refusing to fix stuff up), and in the end got weary in it all. I’m certainly ready to begin again more intelligently but also aware of the difficulties that go with close proximity and the challenges we need to consider.
Chapin’s ideas go a ways towards bringing people together but at core I sense the issues for us in suburban Perth still revolve around individualism and isolation. We live close together in terms of actual space, yet live incredibly separate lives. Even people under the same roof can live bizarrely separate lives. And we Christians do it too…
As we consider mission in the neighbourhood – the process of bringing people together and fostering community we first need to get over our own selfishness (because community takes time) and then we have to contend with the individualism in others who may not share any of our ideals of ‘trinitarian community’. Privatopia has become the norm and they might just want to be left in peace…
I would even suggest that the basic skills of forming community are on the decline and some would have neither the skills nor confidence to engage with others around them in a healthy way. The sheer carnage we observed among relationships in the last place we lived was disturbing. People fighting and then simply cutting one another off rather than seeking to reconcile. After a few years the relational fragmentation was huge and you couldn’t just host a party or a brunch like we used to be able to because we needed to consider that if ‘X’was invited then ‘Y’ wouldn’t come and so on.
We are coming up for one year in our new location now and while we have met a bunch of people in the street and down the beach, we haven’t formed any significant relationships yet. But I’m feeling a new wave of energy rising and currently pondering and praying about what it looks like for the word to be flesh here in this neighbourhood.