Measuring the health of our local communities
When you kick back in your retirement, chances are you will probably spend more time playing with your grandkids and reflecting on the quality of your relationships with your family, friends and neighbours, than you will spend remembering what the state of the economy was a few decades earlier.
We hear a lot about the importance of economic growth and development for the Northern Territory and it clearly is an important factor. The latest Deloitte Access Economics (DAE) report (December Quarter 2014) delivered some good news for Territorians on this front, with predictions of strong economic and employment growth one of the lowest levels of inflation in the country over the next five years. These are all vital considerations when it comes to measuring how well we are travelling as a Territory. Maybe, however, there are some other ways of measuring how we are doing as a Territory, which aren’t to do with economics. With National Neighbour Day just around the corner for another year, it presents a time to reflect on what the quality of our neighbourly relationships says about the health of our local community and the Territory as a whole.
What if we measured the health of the Territory, not just by economic factors or crime statistics, but also by the number of connections we each have with the neighbours in our street or local area, and the quality of those relationships?
This kind of thinking has been taking place at an international and national level. The Human Development Index (HDI) has been created to emphasize that it is people and their capabilities, rather than economic growth alone, which should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country. At a national level, the Australian National Development Index (ANDI) is being developed to tell us, in a snapshot, how we are doing as a people, as communities and as a nation, with the aim being to introduce a holistic measure of national progress and wellbeing that reflects the values and priorities of Australians. Now could be a good time to start to think about what things for us might be important to measure at a local level.
The last Sunday of the month, March 29, has been set down as Australia’s annual celebration of community, bringing together the people in our streets, rural areas or neighbourhood for a local get together. Responsibility for Neighbour Day sits with Relationships Australia, and relationships are the key to a healthy local community.
Neighbours are important because good relationships with others can and does change communities. Social connection also makes us feel better as it helps prevent loneliness, isolation and depression, and it can also serve to support and protect elderly or vulnerable people and those doing it tough. What if we measured the good deeds done for and with our neighbours, the cuppas had with the lonely or isolated, guidance and mentoring provided to the youth of our community, or support given to those who might be vulnerable.
As Hugh Mackay, social researcher and author, said in a speech last year, “people need communities to nurture, protect and sustain them”. MacKay also cited the often held desire which he refers to as “the fantasy of the village”, and which people find appealing because the reality is pushing us away from that kind of living. MacKay, however, argues that wherever we live we, can have that kind of village dynamic and that “it is not where you live, but how you live, that matters”.
Neighbour Day presents a very real and achievable way of beginning to build this ‘village’ in your local community, if you would like to see neighbourly connections in your area grow stronger. It’s all about local people, neighbourhoods and organisations across Australia working together to grow stronger, well connected communities, and it is not really just about one day, but about bringing this ethos to every day of the year. But starting with one day, Neighbour Day could be a great place to start.
Stories abound across the country of people not knowing their neighbours, or only waving from a distance, and of busy people and busy lives which never seem to slow down. Neighbour Day is the perfect day to break the ice and get to know the people who might have just moved in next door or the neighbours across the street or on the next farm – and to start to feel more of a part of your community. Over time it would be great to see some healthy competition between local suburbs to see how many neighbor day events take place from year to year – and that we would see the prevalence of such events as an indicator of how well our communities are doing.
Last year a neighbor day BBQ was held in our street and people from around half of the houses on the street came by. Some people met each other for the first time, stories were swapped and connections were made. Since then, favours have been done, gardens have been watered while people were away, equipment like lawn mowers have been lent out, cuppas have been shared and new neighbours welcomed. The BBQ was pretty simple to organize, but the impact has been significant. Other Neighbour Day events were held in several local parks across Alice Springs, which were also well attended and created opportunities for new connections.
Organising a Neighbour Day event does not have to be a big task. It can be helpful to find a few other neighbours to share the organizing with you. An event can be as simple as organising a cuppa or a BYO BBQ in a neighbour’s front yard – or meeting in your local park. “The community you want starts at your front door.”
To register your event, to access the free Neighbour Day kit to celebrate your neighbourhood. http://www.neighbourday.org/event-registration/
Jonathan Pilbrow is a local Neighbour Day ambassador, who has lived in Larapinta for the last 16 years and works as a policy consultant.
 Hugh MacKay spoke at the launch of his book, ‘The Art of Belonging’, at the ANU, October 22, 2014, replayed on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife ABC Radio, 18 February 2015.