Love thy neighbour? Just 4 per cent of Canberrans socialise in their street
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Love thy neighbour? Just 4 per cent of Canberrans socialise in their street

When was the last time you caught up with your neighbours? Or borrowed a cup of sugar? Could you even recognise them out in public?

New research suggests most Canberrans wouldn't, with just four per cent of ACT residents currently socialising with their neighbours.

A new study reveals the state of Canberrans' relationships with their neighbours. Chapman resident Andrew Creer is one local who hopes to know his neighbours better.

A new study reveals the state of Canberrans' relationships with their neighbours. Chapman resident Andrew Creer is one local who hopes to know his neighbours better.Credit:Karleen Minney

The study - undertaken by Mastercard and the Happiness Institute - found that 55 per cent of Canberrans didn't know their neighbour’s name, and 25 per cent didn't know what they looked like. Chapman resident Andrew Creer is guilty of both.

"I wouldn't have a clue who they were if I saw them in public," Mr Creer said.

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"We've been close friends with one of our neighbours for 12 years. They're our good family friends now. As for all of our other neighbours, we don't know them at all."

The 25-year-old met those long-time friends during the Canberra bushfires in 2003. During this period, the families banded together, forming a "mutual bond" early on.

"Still, I do hope to get to know my other neighbours more," he said.

He's not alone. In the study, more than half of the ACT residents participating said they hoped to get to know their neighbours more.

Ninety-three per cent of those ACT residents said they would also feel more socially connected if their relationships with their neighbours were stronger.

"The hardest thing I think when meeting your neighbours is crossing the boundary and breaking the ice," Mr Creer said.

The link between social connection at a suburban level and good mental and physical health has long been studied by academics.

“Aussies feel significantly happier when they’re socially connected. When it comes to our neighbours there’s a huge gap in how close we are, to how well we know each other," The Happiness Institute's chief happiness officer Dr Tim Sharp said.

Sardinia, the island home to a record number of centenarians.

Sardinia, the island home to a record number of centenarians.

The Mediterranean island of Sardinia is known for its rugged mountains, azure grottoes and, fascinatingly, its large number of centenarians. It's one of the only places in the world where men live as long as women do. When compared to Australia, where 63 per cent of people over the age of 85 are women, the Sardinians may be onto something.

Psychologist Susan Pinker studied the island and its people and found a key factor in residents' longevity was their social bond with their neighbours. Even elderly members of the community weren't cared for by their families alone, but by their neighbours too.

That's not to shame those Canberrans who don't live the idyllic Sardinian way of life. In this modern city, there are a slew of competing priorities that keep this level of socialisation out of reach.

And then there's the internet. Traditional suburban communities have diminished because of the social opportunities which exist off the streets and online.

Digital platforms mean we no longer need to slug through small talk with our neighbours - we can talk to whoever we like, whenever we like, regardless of location. Perhaps this is why 57 per cent of Canberrans also admit to avoiding their neighbours.

Serena Coady is a lifestyle reporter at The Canberra Times

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