How and why did we fall out of touch with our neighbours? We explore the importance of reconnecting with our neighbours.
How many of us can name all of our neighbours? That is the people in the flats and houses next to you. They might be next door, or down the hall, or directly across from you. For those of us living in flats, they might also be the people underneath or above us, or someone in the same building but on a different floor.
It isn’t uncommon for most of us not to be able to name, identify or recognise a single neighbour. Research from the Eden Project Communities and YouGov found that one in 10 Londoners were unable to identify a single one of their neighbours. While, out of 2000 Britons asked a third declared they would be unable to identify a neighbour in a police lineup. It seems we aren’t even nipping next door to borrow a cup of sugar, let along really getting to know the people we share a building or street with.
This isolation from our neighbours makes sense, in urban centres, maybe. But the same research revealed that just 42% of Londoners reported feeling a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. And before we blame this on people in the UK as a whole or even on city dwellers in general, over 50% of Manchester residents reported feeling a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. So how well we know our neighbourhoods and consequently connect to our neighbourhoods does vary from city to city.
It isn’t uncommon for most of us not to be able to name, identify or recognise a single neighbour. Image by Luke Hecht.
There are a number of reasons why we are not connecting with our neighbours. This loss of connection has increased with the rise of our digital lives and the increasing amounts of time we spend online socialising. In person communication is not quite dead yet, but it is on the decline, and as we connect online for longer periods of the time and more frequently, somewhere along the way we are forgetting to get to know the people we live next to. We can connect with friends and family across the world at any time of the day or night, but we don’t know our neighbours.
At the same time we are working longer hours than ever before. In 2019, in research conducted amongst white collar professionals working in London, found that a shocking 91% of them worked overtime regularly. We don’t know our neighbours because we are always in the office, or commuting to and from the office. With less time spent at home, we just don’t have the opportunity to get to know the people next door, who are also most likely stuck in their office or on the train all the time too.
Crucially more people than ever before are choosing a life of privacy and autonomy- and one that is not dedicated by societal norms or that old adage of having to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ And there is a lot that is good about this. It is still a reason why many escape from rural or suburban areas to urban centres, that craving for anonymity.
This loss of connection has increased with the rise of our digital lives. Image by Victoria Heath.
But being a part of a neighbourhood doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many benefits to the sense of belonging that comes with being a part of a neighbourhood community. Social isolation is on the rise, and not just amongst older populations, more and more young people are reporting feeling socially lonely and recognising its impact on a reduced quality of life. Communities and neighbourhoods that come together can do so much to improve the area they live in for everyone. It also creates and fosters a sense of innovation and inspiration, when people are able to connect over shared personal and working experiences and interests or passions.
Vonder’s reinvention of co-living- combining the best of private living spaces with shared community facilities brings together the best of urban living. It meets our need for privacy, while also allowing us to get to know our neighbours in a myriad of ways that suits us, and them. So we can get to know our neighbours in ways we choose. When we share coworking spaces, when we engage in community events and activities- we connect with our neighbours and in the process build our communities. Our co-living London, co-living Berlin and co-living Warsaw complexes are not designed to supplant communities but to grow organically in the neighbourhoods we choose to make our homes.