Part 1: What’s happened to our communities: a very short history of where you live

The last quarter of a decade has overseen the decline of communities. We have become increasingly detached from our streets and local neighbourhoods. Instead, we’ve created our communities separated from the immediate local area that we live. This means that we often don’t know anyone in our neighbourhood, let alone on our actual street. The memories of popping over to the next door to borrow a cup of sugar, or borrow some milk are distant images in our collective memory. Today, to ask your neighbour for some milk could even be seen as a social faux pas. Instead, we stroll down the streets with relative anonymity, awkwardly avoiding eye contact with those that live around us.

This has come as a result of the change in the way we live: we no longer work in the same place that we live, families have relocated to different areas, even different countries, we commute to work, we study in another borough and our friendship and family networks can often be a thirty-five minute public transport journey, one train and two buses away from each other. We see this through the decline of the industry centred towns where many worked together in the same factory. As such, one would know their work colleagues, who would often also live on the same street as them. Instead, we now work in hundreds of different jobs that do not tie us to a particular town. For example, I commute every day from Wimbledon to East London.

This is not a recent phenomenon. Academics have been trying to explain this trend for more than half a century. For example, sociologist Michael Young, the author of Family and Kinship in East London, found in the 1950s the movement of families towards suburbs stifled the traditional communities that existed. Instead, we have become increasingly isolated from our streets and neighbourhoods.

This does not mean that we are less community-oriented. Rather, our time, more than ever, is spent with fantastic communities rather other than neighbourhood communities. You might be a part of a tech start-up community, maybe a sports or religious community, or LGBTQ+ community. Most of us are in some form of community, but we are less likely to be in a community of neighbours.

The growth of technology has further accelerated the changes in the way that we socialise. With the growth of social networks, we have access now to ever-increasing webs of people. We can chat with our best friend from secondary school who we have lost contact with. We can video call our friend who is travelling on the other side of the world in real-time. Also, we receive constant live updates on our friends and families updates with Apps like Snapchat or Instagram.

With social networking, and access to a variety of vibrant communities we have lost sight of our local neighbourhoods. More than ever, we are less likely to know our neighbours personally. We are less likely to socialise with our neighbours. The street party with our neighbours seems to be an event of a by-gone age. The lack of communication has changed the way that we feel about our local communities. As a recent study by the government has found, we are less likely than ever to trust our neighbours, with only 41% of people trusting their neighbours. However, it must be stated that our level of trust is related to certain cities, with Londoners least likely to trust their neighbours.

The next 5 years are predicted to be the second coming of ‘local’. As a society, we are finding new ways to reconnect with our local communities. Whilst technology has often been the antagonist in the story of its decline, it seems that technology is now acting as the enabler for regenerating communities. We’re already on a journey to a time when we prefer to buy from local makers, share and work together as a group to take action and reforge our trust of those nearby to rediscover where we live.

Connecting communities