A blog from Inspiring Communities’ Megan Courtney – 17th February 2016

During the summer break we headed back up to Auckland and took the opportunity to drive around some of our much loved stomping ground out West. In the 5 years we’ve been gone, new roads, malls and houses have all appeared, with new communities both forming, and reforming, in response to every changing city life. I also noticed that a once thriving community garden was no more and I wondered why.

Maybe key local residents had moved on, or maybe it was just that a great community project had just ‘done its time’?  What ever the reason, locally-led action in that neighbourhood started because of local relationships.  When people connected and got to know each other, community-building magic started to happen.

“Relationships matter.  And nothing replaces ‘face to face’ contact.  Despite perceptions of everyone being ‘connected’ and ‘friends’ in our new online world, increasing rates of social isolation suggest a different reality, and a growing cost to society.”

Last year’s Listener feature titled Village people profiled new international evidence showing that feeling personally connected to the people and place where you live keeps you healthier, happier and more able to face any challenges that may arise. It also reinforced the importance of informal and informal ‘third places’ – parks, walkways, local shops, cafes, fun events, and school gate pick-ups that enable us to bump into other local people and interact in a 1-1 way.

New Zealand’s high rates of mobility mean that our neighbourhoods are constantly changing and becoming increasingly more diverse.  As a result, social connectedness doesn’t just magically happen in the way it may have 20 or 30 years ago – as residents of newly upgraded Farmer Crescent in Pomare have found out.

“Like anything, if we value the outcome, we have to name it, invest in it and be prepared for the long haul.”

Megan Courtney is a founding member of the core team and a co-director of Inspiring Communities.

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