Build Your Own Sustain-Ability

Teamwork harvesting fresh vegetables in the community greenhouse garden – Happy young people at work picking up organic vegetarian food – Focus on women faces – Healthy lifestyle concept

Start where you are.

170+ nations have made commitments to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and I’ve been on a mission to find interesting ways these ideas are being brought to life.

About a year ago on a trip to the Netherlands, I caught up with an old friend. When we arrived at his block of flats, we were greeted by his four year old daugther Mia, at the door of the building. Mia does not speak English, nor I Dutch, but she confidently led us across the courtyard, and up the stairs to her flat greeting her neighbours; each with some special words for her, on our way through. I had the feeling we were in a really special place.

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities.

They live in a “Collectief Particulier Opdrachtgeverschap”; a Co-housing community in English. The block, owned by the architect and all the tenants, houses a theatre, a nursery, some small shops, a harbour, a greenhouse and a swimming area.

They have a common studio flat that they let at low prices to guests of the community. They rotate roles and responsibilities for managing various aspects of their collective. Each year, they also publish a book that grants households a dedicated page to share a picture and a story about themselves.

These communities made me reflect on my flat dwelling experiences in the UK. Opportunities to engage with your neighbours are so rare, that often we do not even recognise them out of context. If you are renting your flat, perhaps your desire to engage is reduced due to the transitory nature of it. This curious behaviour of ours can however contribute to a feeling of isolation and loneliness, especially now in these times of self isolation.

I googled “talking to your neighbours”, and it surprised me to see that the first 3 results were all about how to resolve disputes with your neighbours. In Malcom Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers”, he speaks about the decision-making heuristics that make us default to either trust or distrust. We need our biases as they help us navigate the world more easily, but at times this bias can be quite unhelpful. Particularly when it comes to mistrust, as the incidence of untrustworthy people in our day to day lives are typically a small minority.

In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman describes these heuristics as our system 1 and system 2. System 1 is driven by intuition, and system 2 is driven by logic and reason. Often though, system 2 takes the lazy option, and decides to trust the intuition of system 1, not always correctly.

With the knowledge of this, how can we turn our existing flats and building from places where we live in fear of our neighbours, to communities from which we thrive? I welcome your thoughts!

Co-housing communities in the west

I decided to investigate the concept. It exists in the UK, you can check it out here

You can also learn more about it via this 2017 TED talk from Grace Kim. At her co-housing block, its customary for her community to have communal meals, cooked by a member of the community.

#cohousing #inclusion #community #socialwellbeing #mentalhealth #Coaching