I was in a café today fixing up a few things for work, and I couldn’t help but overhearing the conversation the man at the table next to me was having with his friend. Well, I call it a conversation; it was more of a monologue, which is why I didn’t mind so much that I was listening in. He wanted to talk. He did it well. Actually, he did it so well that before I left I was sorely tempted to turn around and ask him if he’d written a book on the subject, or a blog, or a PhD even, because I’d go out and buy a copy right now if I could.
I should have. I don’t even know what this guy looks like, because I had my back to him for the time that I was there, but I’ll probably remember his words for an awfully long time. Pity it’s too late now. Pity Real Life isn’t as easy as Facebook, where you CAN just “like” someone’s conversation, or be their friend because they’re interesting. If we were both six I would have asked him if he wanted to come and build a sandcastle with me. It’s such a pity that such things aren’t appropriate any more. It should be.
Anyway, the point of this, the subject that this man in the café was soliloquizing about, was houses, and the nature of housing in Australia versus what happens in England, Europe and the US. Honestly, I would have took out a Dictaphone or taken notes if I could, but I didn’t, so I can’t really repeat his thoughts here that much. What I do remember was how he talked about how the renovation movement – Australia’s new-found obsession with buying a house, doing it up and moving on – is causing us to lose touch with our roots and our sense of community. See? Fascinating stuff.
BUT…here’s the thing that brought it home to me in a big way…I’m reading Jonah Lehner’s book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” at the moment, and in it HE talks about how the random encounters we have on footpaths, in cafes, during toilet breaks, are often the key to idea-sharing that can lead to big creative breakthroughs, and he presents research to suggest that more creative ideas (as quantified by patents) happen in large cities as opposed to small regional areas. It’s because we’re thrown into proximity with a greater number of people that leads to a greater amount of idea-sharing.
This leads me to another thing I read in a newspaper article once, about how urban planners are often the people responsible for the success or failure of a community: things like whether there are footpaths, and corner shops to walk to on those footpaths, and playgrounds and high density housing estates…all of these things dictate the type of people that the area will attract, and determine how they live their lives in it.
I have much to think about here, and I’d love to hear what anybody else has to say on the subject. But one thing is for sure: when our communities are becoming more limited and insular, and when Facebook and Twitter (where we choose who is part of our community) replace parks and footpath exchanges, we all need to get out to great cafes more, and drink more coffee.