I’ve just read Cooperative Streets – Neighbours in the UK, a recent Co-operativesUK report. It charts the decline in neighbourliness in the UK over the last 28 years.
Amongst other things, the average number of neighbours we each know by name has declined from 13 to 7. That’s perhaps unsurprising when you read that only 21% of us now say that it’s easy to start a conversation with a stranger as opposed to 78% in 1982. But enough of the statistics. What’s this got to do with activism consensus and participation?
More and more of us are realising the need for rebuilding community to solve the current ecological crisis. It’s not enough to wait for government or industry to change their practice – we have to do it ourselves in our in homes, streets and neighbourhoods. That’s at the heart of the Transition movement, for example. “Resilient communities” is a phrase I’m hearing a lot at the moment.
It’s no longer enough to think in terms of a community of activists making changes despite the disinterest, apathy or best efforts of the wider geographical or political community. If we don’t know our neighbours pulling down the garden fences to create that community garden, organising widespread action to harvest rainwater from our roofs, or collectively composting our waste will be a whole lot harder.
If you’ve ever watched The Power of Community you’ll understand what I mean. Cuba had no choice but to innovate and act together to beat the US imposed oil blockade in the same way that the rest of us will have to act to deal with peak oil and climate change. But I suspect they also had a head start on the neighbours front. And the kind of change that Cuba underwent will be greatly facilitated if we can build a genuine culture of consensus and participation.
So getting to know your neighbour is rapidly becoming a vital act of social change!