The best part about buy­ing our first house 26 years ago was dis­cov­er­ing that we now lived in a real neighbourhood.

We were the first fam­i­ly with young chil­dren to move into our road in some years. Our neigh­bours were such a mixed bunch age wise, gay and straight, with or with­out chil­dren. My two sons and I each made friends who were con­sid­er­ably old­er than us, but oh were they great friend­ships. We all learned so much from the gen­er­ous hearts those peo­ple had.

As time went by oth­er fam­i­lies had chil­dren so there were younger play­mates for pick­up bas­ket­ball or going on the swings. But our old­er friends gave us rich­es beyond our dreams. My old­est son’s friend fos­tered our son­s’ inter­est in com­put­ers, he loaned us com­put­ers and was con­stant­ly upgrad­ing what we had. I used to tell him he was spoil­ing my sons. He sim­ply said “I have no one else to spoil”. He also had an abid­ing inter­est in WWII air­planes, anoth­er of my old­est son’s passions.

Our next door neigh­bour became my youngest son’s very best friend – they were prob­a­bly 50 years apart in age, but they shared a com­mon inter­est in lawn­mow­ers and house­hold projects! We would hear Stan’s garage door open and my son would say “Can I go to Stan’s?” The orig­i­nal deck they built with a crowd of Stan’s friends has just been rebuilt by the cur­rent own­ers (my son was sim­ply hap­py to hold all the nails Stan and his bud­dies need­ed — none of them even hint­ed that he was too young to be there at age 4 or 5).

My friend Rose was in her 80’s when we moved in. She lived across the road and was delight­ed to meet some­one from ‘the old coun­try’. She had emi­grat­ed from Eng­land with her fam­i­ly when she was only 13. We rem­i­nisced about our favourite foods and she talked about the vil­lage where she grew up, not so far from my hometown. 

She would read­i­ly sit with my sleep­ing youngest son while I nipped out to pick up the old­est from his first (and only) year at school. We didn’t call it babysit­ting back then, no mon­ey was exchanged either. If my young son woke up she qui­et­ly said “Mum will be back in a min­ute” and he was com­plete­ly calm. 

Some years after she died I made a trip to her vil­lage in south­east Eng­land and it was almost exact­ly as she described it to me – even the vil­lage green and the school hadn’t changed from how it was in the ear­ly 1900’s. A very emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence; I mourned her and smiled at the same time.

Fast for­ward 26 years and to a dis­cus­sion with my hus­band this morn­ing. We could only name one neigh­bour who has been a help­mate in recent times of need. Our old friends have long since died. 

Most of our neigh­bours hiber­nate in their hous­es, remod­el­ing, or plan­ning their move to their next ‘neighbourhood’. It real­ly doesn’t mat­ter where those peo­ple live. They go about their lives bear­ing no rela­tion­ship to their neigh­bours or even their own out­door areas.

They leap in their cars and go off to work, school or their children’s activities.

My city has sug­gest­ed a mora­to­ri­um on the build­ing of McMan­sions in neigh­bour­hoods like ours with exist­ing small­er scale homes. It’s real­ly not just the McMan­sions. It’s the fact that those prop­er­ties are iden­ti­cal in almost every way, the new hous­es are sim­ply clones of those built in oth­er parts of the city. If more imag­i­na­tion was put into their designs we might not be think­ing about a moratorium.

It’s a chick­en and egg thing as to why so many women feel they must work while their chil­dren are at a ten­der age. I can see how lone­some they would feel being the only moth­er at home with no sense of liv­ing in a ‘real’ neighbourhood. 

The thing is, if those stay­ing at home went out of their way to inter­act with their neigh­bours sim­ply because it’s a pleas­ant thing to do – not as my neigh­bour did recent­ly, ask­ing every­one if they want­ed to sell their homes; in fact try­ing to solic­it such sales by tak­ing meals to one elder­ly neigh­bour!!! (She didn’t take the bait so the meals stopped!) – then they might not feel as alien­at­ed from those around them. 

I real­ize how very lucky I was to move into a real neigh­bour­hood where peo­ple cut their own grass and tend­ed their own plants – how we all used to stand around and talk a cou­ple of times a week. It gave my sons a sense of whose house was safe – in fact every house was a safe house in those days.

I think most peo­ple now liv­ing here with their young chil­dren have lit­tle or no sense of who their neigh­bours are. 

If friend­ship with us is only based on what can be mate­ri­al­ly gained from us it’s no won­der such peo­ple don’t feel part of their neigh­bour­hood and are ready to move on.

Neigh­bour­hoods still mat­ter and are still around, you just have to make a con­scious con­tri­bu­tion – it used to be called altruism!!