So, just for a moment I want you to visualize your dream neighbourhood. What does it look like? What kind of vibe does it have?
I would guess that most people want to live where it's safe, peaceful, fun and close to stuff. My idyllic image of suburbia includes cycling around, community gardening, knowing your neighbours on both sides, friendly nod's from opposite sides of the road, cups of flour and Friday night drinks.
There is a certain comfort to having good relationships with the houses around you, and it makes those moments when you are home alone that little bit less scary when you know you can always squeal out to a neighbour if a knife wielding hooligan barges in to the living room.
These kinds of tight knit communities don't just happen though. It takes time for people to get to know each other and establish trust. Being the new kid on the block is a little daunting at first, and it's easy to screw up first impressions. About a week after moving in to my new apartment I made the silly mistake of inviting friends over to my house after the pub. The first impression I made with the people living below me involved Britney Spears at 3am. Didn't go down well, stuffed up big time. I thought, 'How do I recover from that embarrassment?'
Apologetic notes in letterboxes and bunches of free kale was a good start I felt. Seemed to work.
I am inspired by a few wonderful neighbourhoods around Newcastle, and I would like to share with you a little bit about Tighes hill. Over the last few years I have watched the community completely transform the social landscape of the place.
It was once a quiet suburb, with all the usual trimmings (occasional vandalism, pollution, post-industrial wasteland...) but then I met two wonderful women – Nola and Meryl – who introduced me to the grass roots of the Tighes Hill community.
Nola has always been the kind of person who likes to make things look better, and she had her eye on a barren concrete wasteland which was attracting teenage delinquents. Nola, with the support of Meryl and a handful of others, distributed some flyers to the surrounding houses about the idea of creating a community garden on the site. The idea took off and support flowed in. It's fun to be involved in slightly naughty, guerilla projects.
From these simple beginnings, Tighes Hill Community Garden was born and continues to flourish (one of Newcastle's best). The garden acted as a physical space where people could meet and get to know each other. A safe open space was all that was needed to get people thinking about the ways to create that urban village feel. A resident procured a coffee machine and turned their back shed into a cafe, a choir was born, book clubs and kids groups formed, and cocktails in the garden on friday nights became a permanent fixture. The Suburb became a place which allowed people to do things; where ideas could be supported.
I dont know about you, but I really like knowing the people who live around me, because all sorts of fun things come out of the wood work when you get to know people. If Nola and Meryl had not taken those first steps to bring the community together, it would be a very different place.
If you don't know your neighbours, I would encourage you to reach out and say hi. Maybe it's time you wrote a sorry note for the Kelis at 3am.
Tighes Hill Community Garden can be found on the corner of Kings Road and John St.