COLUMN: A movement in search of connection

Columnist ML Burke says more and more people are looking to get away from suburban isolation in search of community.

There is something going on, especially with young and older adults, that will dramatically change the way we live in our communities: a growing movement of people searching for that elusive sense of “community.”

This is partly to do with the high cost of land making it increasingly unaffordable for many people to own or even rent anything, but another compelling reason is that we have lived in isolation for so long that we have come to fear strangers, especially people from afar.

The North American dream of everyone owning a big house in the suburbs fronted with a two or three-car garage and a large private backyard is proving to have been a huge mistake. Humans are social animals who need to feel safe in our homes while also connected to the outside community, such as our neighbours, favourite shops, recreation and work. It’s a natural support system that evolved over hundreds of years, and which that supposed dream has almost destroyed.

I liken our current reality to beginning in the recovery process after finally diagnosing the disease. Our quest for size, privacy and affordability really took off in the 1950s when the huge baby and building booms increased demand for large single-family tract homes in suburbia. This created the need for shopping malls, freeways and many more cars (one for dad to commute to work and one for mom to drive the kids everywhere until they would get their own cars).

This lifestyle perpetuated an unhealthy and unsustainable combination of isolation and over-consumption. It discouraged getting to know neighbours and kept us safe from them, especially if they were “different,” as in from other cultures.

In this context, having bigger homes and collecting more things was a recipe for our current ills. We live in a society that is seriously polluting the planet and this is coming back to bite us with extreme weather events, traffic gridlock, huge government and personal debts, and a widening gap between the rich and poor. Something has to give.

Many want to live smaller, consume less and share resources. The shift has already started with young people who use public transit and ride-share programs, live collectively in houses and so on. Having grown up in Metro Vancouver’s diverse population, most have no problem sharing with people from other countries.

Following their lead, a number of retirees aged 55 and older are searching for both affordability and that feeling of being part of a supportive community. Co-housing and the rebirth of co-ops are hot topics.

With that in mind, I am doing part two of an ElderCollege Delta presentation on various models for living smaller and independently within a supportive community. After a brief overview of part one, we will examine the pro and con realities of “sharing” or “co-living,” including both rental and purchased shared housing models. There will be some handouts and lots of opportunity for discussion.

If interested, you can register through ElderCollege Delta ($10) or pay at the door. This event will be held on March 30 at Cedar Park Church on 44th Avenue at Arthur Drive in Ladner, from 1 to 3 p.m.

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

North Delta Reporter

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