This week's comment by Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK, regarding newts, was depressing.
But instead of dwelling too much on these threats to destroy habitats, I want to use this opportunity to dream out loud here, about something we've often thought about.
What if we drastically reimagined our communities and how they work. What if we throw off old stereotypes and reimagine how we want to live personally but also as communities within the wider country. Why can't we decide that how we've "developed" as a country has fundamentally failed our environment, our society, our country and us financially. Can we look to other communities around the world, into our own history and decide the failings that we live with today we can throw off too? How do we actually solve the "house crisis" as well as other problems of our day at once. Boris's policy is simply political fodder that will essentially fail other government policies.
Communal Living in a new sense.
As soon as I think communal living I have a mental image. One that you might have too, and together we both need to shuffle ourselves away from that static image.
Increasingly community fridges, tool libraries, repair cafes, community gardens are popping back up in our communities. We are re-investing (in both time and money) into our community spaces and shared resources. At the same time as a growing "tiny home" movement. Which goes against the mainstream economic ideal of setting up a home, with a new kitchen, fenced back garden, neat driveway and the luxuries of modern living that make things easy. Why are we creeping back to community if the economy is selling us individualism so heavily?
Our society is lacking the very basics of community and is fostering big problems. The waste culture, throw away culture, loneliness, depression to name just some. Even down to activism fatigue within the environmentalism field. Child care. Growing food. Mental load.
What if we stand back and look at our individualist lifestyles. How each of us have a washing machine that we had to go to work to pay for in it's entirety and will only use once a week. What about the expensive car sat on the drive that we use once or twice a day, yet we are paying insurance for 24/7? The jobs we go to 5 days a week to fund our big homes with all of these individualist resources that help us go to work 5 days a week.
We're stressed, tired, hating work. We struggle to find time to do things we love, we buy ready made food when we're tired, we love disposable as it allows us to work more to pay for those expenses. Hand making something not because we're good at it but because we want to express creativity and have something beautiful and handcrafted, is rare." Who has time?"
Just think of all the valuable things we LOOSE when we "develop" and build more individualist homes with neat fences and astroturf. This things in the current model are not things that are "valued" officially. Including female labour in homes, wildlife, ecosystem services, our wellbeing, our ability to be resilient as communities, a supportive chat with a neighbour.
What are things we could gain?
Financial freedom. Work less as overheads are less. Repairs shared and less costly. Value found through vegetable patches, community support and more.
Access to resources such as tool libraries. Even as simple as shared fancy dress, shared event wear, shared machinery. Shared resources making breakages far less stressful. Far less need for multiple purchases- less environmental burden. Greater ability to handcraft as access to tools.
A support system. A community to help in times of real need.
Teachers and members of the community who can provide knowledge to the community, including foraging skills and other life skills. Knowledge can be transferred but also shared. Tasks shared.
Ability to buy in bulk for food etc reducing packaging, costs and reducing time spent shopping
Possibility of saving time and waste by options of community cooking
Circular economy including composting.
Sharing the mental load.
Utilise the community strengths in each member, such as gardeners or teachers.
Sharing pets! Being a hugely resources intensive but VERY lovely aspect of modern living, what's to say we couldn't share pets. A "community" dog that lives on site dependant on the wishes of the community members. Community can walk the dog between them.
Security of a community. Prevention of crime but also ability to resiliently deal with crime if it happens.
This reimagining sounds like a commune. I get it, but also get over it. To do all of this, we wouldn't all need to fit the stereotype (but it's TOTALLY ok if you do).
This could be a collective of young professionals, who own tiny homes who want to pool together to buy/ rent a piece of land that individually they cannot afford due to the current housing crisis. They get their own private tiny home that is comfortable and safe. But they ALSO get access to shared space, shared resources. A shed full of tools and the knowledge to use them. Savings resources and money. All the benefits of communal living.
I know this might sound crazy. But with younger generations unable to get onto the housing ladder, overdevelopment in the UK, "not enough housing" and a desire to live low impact, with less waste and a rising desire to grow vegetables thanks to coronavirus, why can we not dream? Why cant we decide that living in high densities doesn't mean tiny flats full of the same machinery (washing machines per unit) but can mean tiny homes with large communities and the benefits that go with that.
Why can't we dream of resilient communities with local food sources, supported residents, less financial burden, less environmental burden and more freedom.
Of course, this makes little sense in a capitalist economic system that depends only on GDP and growth. We also need the government to create policies to support this. We need planning permissions to support this (which it doesn't in the UK at the moment). We need to look at SYSTEM change. To look towards this for state housing. The critics will say it's idealistic to create communities like this within social housing, but I think if we REALLY want to address these systemic problems we need to be brave. We need to create and foster resilient, strong communities that are strong enough to deal with individual problems.
When we start of value the real things, the value in these communities changes. So whilst right now, my little dream is just that, I hope that as our current economic systems fail people and planet and we are forced to reimagine- that we'll find ourselves living in a little home with a shared veg patch and washing machine with some of you one day!
Disclaimer. If you read this and thought of one million problems with this model of communities and resolving the housing crisis/ social crisis/ environmental crisis, great! I would love to hear your suggestions and solutions for these problems. Can you find a way to support resilient communities through systematic change? I think we need to dream big. We need to draw back from individualism. Notes on a postcard!