Anonymity in modern urban life

I grew up in Germany, in a country which is littered with apartment blocks. Big cities, like Hamburg, where I grew up always had apartment blocks. Only the smaller towns and villages, had more single or dual occupancy dwellings or small multi-family blocks of units.

I also remember that in the 1960’s and 70’s the German government promoted the building of two family houses, compared to the single family house, which until fairly recently, was commonplace in Australia.

Yes, I now live in Australia, in Sydney.

So I am familiar with apartment blocks and the fact, that you can live in such a building with 5 to 15 stories and not really know your neighbour, except through the bumping on walls, floors or ceiling if you were to noisy or caused the penetrating of boom-bass of your Hifi or played piano concertos in the middle of the night through paper-thin walls.

30+ years ago I moved to the north of Sydney, to a leavy, large block with one house on it, after having lived for 4 years in an apartment in Brighton-le-sands. Lived in an apartment block in which we only knew one other party.
It was so bad, that people, who met each other on the staircase would not even acknowledge each other or even greet. Now Brighton-le-sands is a middle class subburb, close to beaches and the airport.

So I was delighted to move into a street, where the neighbours came to introduce themselves.

A street, in which everyone knew everyone. Chats in the street or over the fence were common. All would celebrate Christmas on the blocked-off road. Of course with council permission.

Over time people moved and new ones came. The initially Australian born people or European imigrants were replaced by other nationalities. At the beginning the tradition of wellcoming the newcomers would be followed.

But slowly that changed. The ethnic mix changed and many of the new homeowners did not integrate in the old way. Language barriers, cultural differences, general indifference or simply not knowing, resulted that we know fewer and fewer of the neibours, who live in our street.
Maybe, the ‘old’ lot could have made more effort as well. Who knows.

But now Sydney is changing. Everywhere. Despite the wide open spaces Australia has, new apartment blocks are cramped into our suburbs.

Established houses are torn down by developers. One after the other. Apartment blocks spring up. Some of them so close to each other, that neighbours of apartments in the opposit building can see what the others have for breakfast or more.

Walking along these buildings, there is no life.

Hardly any pedestrians. Nobody talks. Cars enter to the underground garage. No talk, no acknowledgement to passerby, to the opposit, sometimes hostile stares, as if one has invaded the area, crossed an unseen boundary, despite walking on the public footpath.

It is strange. But I have seem the same in other countries. Japan, South Korea, Singapore. This type of isolation is absurd.

It can be different. Last week I went to a large property 150km west of Sydney. A 64 hectar garden. Lots of people around. People, who did never meet before, greeted each other. Had smiles, were chatting. Any nationality.

So what is happening in the cities? I find this development disturbing for several reasons. Humans are social creatures and we need communication and company.

Something already severely tested by Covid19 restrictions. But worse, we do not know what is going on in our neighbourhoods. We do not know if there is someone, who may need help; an elderly neighbour, who needs support; some criminal activity going on, something suspicious or even the breeding of extremist tendencies. Or abuse, rape, family violence.

It is sad to consider that humanity is confined to enclosed environments such apartments, cars, offices, etc.. That we communicate more with our devices, rather than with people face-to-face.

A Facebook talk, a TikTok video, a Zoom Meeting cannot replace the personal interaction. Cannot show the subtle body-language signs, can hide appearances.
We loose touch, with everyone and ourselves.

Government’s may like this. Councils even more due to increased revenue streams. Developer love it, if they can make millions from properties, which they bought for thousands. But humanity suffers, society suffers and in the end, we are all looser.

Lets do something. Go to the next person. Say “Hi, I am….” and start a conversation.

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