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Feeling like we belong can enhance our community living

With such rapid growth in apartment living around the country, is it now harder to make social connections and build a harmonious community within your building?

Due to the physical architecture of some apartment blocks, villas and townhouses, it’s true that neighbours may remain strangers, only fleetingly passing each other in common areas.

Or maybe your building has a high turnover of tenants, making it difficult to establish neighbourly friendships when they are only around short term.

Whatever the reason, learning to live together harmoniously in a successful community sounds reasonable enough yet it can be quite complicated.

A recent report by the Grattan Institute indicates there are reasons why living in high density housing is not conducive to feeling part of an effective community.

The Demographics Group Director of Research, Simon Kuestenmache, argues that while some kinds of urban design may ‘build in’ isolation, other designs actually encourage social interaction.

“If you build an apartment that has no common areas then the common area becomes the rubbish area and basement and, of course, no one wants to hang around there.

“A rooftop, a shared garden and communal living spaces offer a common sense of purpose. When you constantly increase small interactions then eventually they lead to larger, more meaningful interactions,” he says.

“If you live in a normal apartment building you might run into somebody for 15 seconds in the lift or for five seconds while you throw a bag of rubbish out, but that’s not enough to build human connections and connections always need to be on eye level to be meaningful.

“You don’t have a [social relationship] with your barista, but if you discover he has a cat, you have a cat and you both love cats then all of a sudden you have an eye level interaction and it can go on from there. You want to encourage a few more meaningful interactions.”

Jimmy Thomson, the writer behind apartment living advice website flat-chat.com.au, believes there are an abundance of ways to promote a sense of community for those living in strata or high density-type housing – with or without communal areas.

Thomson says alongside the traditional methods of joining your strata committee to turn neighbours into friends there are also other options including starting up exercise groups, mothers’ groups, or meetings based around special interests such as theatre or book groups.

Setting up a Facebook group as a means of encouraging discussions relating to the building and local neighbourhood is a good first step in opening the lines of communication among those living in high density-type housing, he says.

“If your [executive] committee isn’t interested, it’s very easy to sidestep them and use the social media tools you have to connect directly with your neighbours.

“Building communities doesn’t happen overnight – but it doesn’t happen at all if you don’t even try.”

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