The continued importance of neighbours in contemporary society

Neighbours throughout history have generally had strongly mutualistic relationships due to elements of co-reliance. Mutual help was often needed in a survival sense, ie; trading/sharing foodstuffs, tools, skills etc. As western society has modernised, increased prosperity and the availability of a welfare safety network have resulted in reduced neighbourly dependence. Also the balance between privacy and sociability between neighbours has seemingly shifted more towards privacy, where there seem to be increasing incidence of complete neighbour disconnect or a ‘shutting-off’ of neighbourly relations.

Now, while neighbours might not be forced to maintain relationships or help each other through necessity (at least in the wealthier nations of the world), this does not mean there aren’t still many benefits to maintaining healthy neighbourly relationships. Following are some points and a couple of examples just from my experience.

The edges of an ecosystem dont necessarily follow fence-lines or property boundaries. This can especially be applied in suburbia where an ecosystem is segmented into many adjacent properties. While each property is separated by fences, plants and animals don’t operate along human-defined boundaries. Thus, what happens in the other yards in your neighbourhood can still influence your own. A prime example of this is fruitfly; if people living nearby have fruitfly-prone fruit tree varieties (ie. Stone fruits, loquats, apples etc) and fail to maintain them properly, a local population of fruit-fly is established. That population will then range and make it extra hard to minimise fruitfly impacts in your own crops. This can be applied to any ranging garden pest or weed.

While soil-types and weather patterns may be similar within a suburb, a range of microclimates suitable for growing a great variety of different crops exist. In addition respective neighbours will have different wants, needs, and growing preferences, providing the neighbourhood with a wonderful variety of supplementary produce to share and trade.

Another benefit to maintaining neighbourly relationships is the conservation of energy/material needs and recycling of waste. For example; one of my neighbours has a decent amount of lawn and finds the grass clippings fill his bin, leaving no room for other rubbish. I offered to take all of his clippings (I use them for compost) and now get them automatically each mow. We both feel the other is doing us the favour! One persons trash is another persons treasure, as the saying goes.

With infrequently used items such as lawnmowers, just think of the potential invested energy saved if we could share one lawnmower per multiple households! In effect we are a super-organism, each of us cells making up this organism. If communication and co-operation is effective between ‘cells’ then our potential for acting together as an efficient and sustainable society is on the way to being realised.

In a sense, each of us is an island. In another sense, however, we are all one. For though islands appear separate, and may even be situated at great distances from one another, they are only extrusions of the same planet, Earth.  Walters, J. Donald

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