A couple of weeks ago I had occasion to go to a newish housing development – Lake Hayes Estate – and it got me thinking about homes and communities.
This place was originally established as ‘affordable family housing’ although with an average sale price of $604,000, I’m not sure about their definition of the word ‘affordable’; a vile subjective term anyway.
Some of the houses are well-appointed and incorporate some intelligent examples of design. Others are simply hideous. And they are all lined up in neat little rows with double garages and tidy lawns.
They are surrounded by mountains and sunk down in a dip so you can’t see from the road, which means they can’t see the beautiful lake for which they are named. In fact, many of them can’t see anything except next-door’s fence.
So I suppose their occupants go to work all day in Queenstown, or possibly Arrowtown, while their children are at schools or kindergartens. They come home to their fortress, pull the curtains, and put their feet up, happy in their nuclear, suburban, Stepford Wives existence.
When I was there I didn’t see a soul, apart from the rubbish collector. There is a park where children can play, which is laid with Astroturf and fenced off from predators. There is no café, there are no shops and there is certainly no pub.
When we moved to our house, one of the reasons for choosing the location was so that we could walk to the local village and go to the pub. I realise this may not be everyone’s priority, but what happens when they run out of bread or milk? They have to get in a car and drive to the supermarket. It’s not the sort of place that encourages ‘thinking outside the box’ (another vile expression). Living in one? That’s another matter.
Neither does it encourage community. The propaganda calls it a township, which to me has sinister connotations of segregation and apartheid. There are walkways so you can pop round to your friend’s house, if they live in the same estate as you. As it is not on the way to anywhere, the roads are quiet so the kids could ride their bikes, if there were any in evidence. It is safe and secure and sterile. We used to call these sorts of places cul-de-sacs, or dead ends.
William Morris promoted the idea of community or fellowship – “Fellowship is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell; fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death; and the deeds that ye do upon the earth, it is for fellowship’s sake ye do them.”
But there is no evidence of fellowship here. No laughter or conversation. But wait, I saw one – a tree house in a walnut grove. It was a prime example of youthful enthusiasm and breaking the rules in a totally harmless way. It will probably be removed soon. This is not a place for fun, learning, or exploration.
Sadly these days people are forming ‘communities’ with virtual strangers on their electronic antisocial networking pages. They would rather stay in their house with the metaphorical drawbridge firmly raised rather than meet folk for a pint down the pub. The clean, barren impersonality of Lakes Hayes Estate may well be the way of the future. I hope not. I think it’s a big mistake.