Here’s a snapshot of a few, who are some of my neighbours here on the fourth floor of our condo complex in Vancouver’s Kitsilano. If you examine the image, you’ll notice that the neighbours seem to be enjoying chatting and visiting with each other. From L ro R, that’s Claire, Heather, Doug, and my husband, Harley. The dogs are Chimi (big), Kipu (little), and Roxy (held by Doug).
You’ll also notice that the actual environment is pretty uninviting. The hallway is narrow, the walls featureless and without interest. And there’s no place for the people to sit. Dogs are okay with the carpet, but most human beings are not.
Yet several times on every single day, this bunch of people and others come out of their apartments and spend time meeting and talking in our hallway.
They have dogs. They’re nice people. They get along. But the real reason they meet and visit is that people need people.
Which brings me to a question that’s been bothering me for years. Why isn’t more of our society’s housing designed for frequent and convenient human interaction? Why aren’t there more readily accessible common areas?
Our particular condo buildings, three of them side by side, do have a common area. It’s a handsome room with couches around a fireplace, and windows overlooking a streetscape and trees. For a pre-arranged party, it’s perfect. But for us, it’s three floors down the elevator, and across a parking lot — not the sort of trek you’d take for everyday chatting with neighbours.
It seems to me that much of today’s housing is organized not to encourage interaction but to discourage it. Most apartment buildings are designed for isolation. It’s unnecessary and it’s painful, especially for people who live alone.
What can we do about it? Suggestions welcome.
Meanwhile, I’m going to walk out my apartment door and chat with my neighbours.