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Not so mean streets

It’s easy to take for granted services that feel basic to us as Kiwis, such as clean streets, reliable rubbish collection – or that firefighters or an ambulance will show up if called. Stop a moment and take a look around for a new appreciation for what else your neighbourhood has to offer. Love where you live? Alice Boyes suggests seven questions to help you better value your surrounds 

By Dr Alice Boyes

1. What are you taking for granted?

The phrase ‘food desert’ was coined in the mid-1990s by UK policy makers, and describes neighbourhoods that don’t have access to affordable and healthy produce. Do you take for granted this or other local facilities? Examples might include ATMs, a neighbourhood doctor’s surgery, footpaths, subsidised kindergartens or a public library. What about your local council swimming pool? It’s not far from where you live but it’s been years since you’ve been there. Perhaps it’s time to get out of your rut and make use of what your locality provides.

2. What’s aesthetically pleasing in your neighbourhood?

Try taking a mindful walk around your neighbourhood and noticing the small details that you usually miss or haven’t paid attention to in a while, such as the architectural details of buildings or trees losing the last of their leaves. 

3. Where are the hidden gems?

In the Christchurch neighbourhood I lived in until recently, are a plethora of Asian supermarkets that have far lower prices than shopping at the big chains, and often have better quality fruit and vegetables. Most outsiders would walk past these unassuming shops. What do you love about your neighbourhood that outsiders might not even realise is there?

4. What do you do beyond your neighbourhood you could do a little closer to home?

We generally have a bias towards continuing to do things the way we’ve always done them. For instance, everyday you drive past a sign advertising your neighbourhood massage therapy business. Yet, you still trek across town to go to your regular masseuse near your old house.  

Look for opportunities to go hyper -local by supporting small businesses in your ‘hood – such as dentists, accountants and restaurants. Doing this keeps money in your neighbourhood, builds a sense of belonging and helps cut your petrol bill. 

5. What exciting things are sitting right under your nose?

You might think you know your neighbourhood well, but things are constantly changing. It’s worth taking time to explore a little. 

You can be just as set in your ways locally, but there could be a great takeaway two streets along, or a little park you’ve never seen before. Try driving a different route home from work, or even cycling or taking the bus. A new route or vantage point will sometimes cause you to pass attractions that you hadn’t previously been aware of. Walk a new track around your neighbourhood and you might discover a great coffee place, or a dairy selling milk at a discount. You may think you know your area well, but things are constantly changing. It’s worth taking time to explore a little.

6. Where are the places of your heart? 

Is there a park where you’ve enjoyed time with your children or grandkids? Are there streets where your child learnt to ride their bike or first drive a car? What raucous parties have you had with local friends or neighbours? Are you friendly with the people next door? What are your memories of meeting them for the first time? When did you realise they were good sorts who could be relied on to feed your cat and collect your mail when you were away?

Try taking a mindful walk around your neighbourhood and noticing the small details that you might have missed –  like the architectural details of buildings or trees losing the last of their leaves. 

7. Could you be a better neighbour to others?

For example, a Chinese family moved into your street but you’ve allowed yourself to be too easily put off by the language barrier. You’ve not invited them to barbeques as you have with other neighbours, or let them know they’re welcome to call on you for basic neighbourly favours. Another example might be contributing to a community garden. These have popped up all over Christchurch since the earthquakes and have been an excellent way for people to get to know each other.

Alice Boyes, PhD, is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.

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