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Re-evaluating neighbourhoods after being locked in them

The Conversation this week had Halvard Dalheim reflecting on how COVID-19 had increased the time that we spent in our local areas and asking do we choose neighbourhoods to live, work and play in? Dalheim suggests that, having found ways to reduce the need for commuting, we have an opportunity to (re-)think about what we want from our local neighbourhoods. Should we consider incorporating home offices into new housing developments, for example? Can or should services like schools and healthcare be distributed more evenly through local centres? Or should we just go back to how things were before?

Dalheim makes some initial suggestions involving small-scale parks and connections between areas that assist people in walking around and enjoying their local area. Most of the places in which I’ve lived, including the one in which I live now, already have a reasonable supply of these things, possibly because I’ve consciously sought out medium-density areas convenient to services over either crowded inner-city anthills or desolate outer suburbs. So perhaps my local area doesn’t require a lot of re-imagining in this respect.

My local area does lack a facility or two of other kinds—I’ve mentioned men’s clothing before—and there are many specialised services that might not reasonably be expected to be available on every street corner. But my local area, augmented by an occasional trip to the Wollongong CBD and some even more occasional on-line shopping, has served me fairly well in most respects for the past three months. But if I didn’t have to go an office at all, or only went there very rarely, is there nonetheless something that I’d want to change?

The main thing I’ve missed over the past three months is the probably the opportunity to visit other neighbourhoods, both in order to enjoy physical contact with my friends to enjoy a neighbourhood a little different from my own. But nothing Dalheim says excludes visiting other areas; he only asks whether there are better options than designating certain areas as being for work, and others for living, for shopping, and so on.

Perhaps I’d prefer a co-working space or a remote campus of my employer than a home office, both because such places have better facilities than what I have at home and because they offer a sense of belonging and opportunities for serendipity that I don’t get from being at home. Wollongong does have at least two co-working spaces, and I occassionally make use of the facilities at the local library, but A Little Research doesn’t (yet) do enough business to justify the cost of regular co-working.

For me, then, the main thing needing re-imagining might be the way that I work, so that I can continue to enjoy my local neighbourhood. Of course this has been an on-going project ever since I moved back to Wollongong, but has perhaps suffered a little over the past few months by thinking of the changes imposed by the pandemic as temporary. Surely much of it is; but when campuses re-open I ought to have a good idea of what I want to keep.

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