Cheers to the neighbours who show up and open up

Cheers to the neighbours who show up and open up

We have a quiet old cobblestone laneway behind our house. With our limited courtyard garden and a growing family, lately we’ve been appropriating the laneway for play and parties.

My laneway is a classic ‘loose space’. Loose spaces are public (or at least publicly accessible) spaces prone to being appropriated, temporarily or permanently, spontaneously or planned, with or without permission, to meet a need or desire. Loose spaces are full of potential, which is why I like them.

I decided to use the laneway to create conversations with my neighbours. I made an invitation and dropped it in the letterboxes of everyone within a stone’s throw of the laneway. Along with a couple of pavement posters, some chalk in the street and a notice at the local café, the stage was set!

I made sure a few of the neighbours I knew would be there. Beyond that, I had no idea who or how many would turn up. We filled the clamshell paddling pool, created a kids’ craft table, sliced some watermelon, set up a few chairs and crossed our fingers…

Within an hour, the laneway was brimming with families, couples, university students, retirees, people who had moved in last month through to people who moved in during the 1970s. It was a patchwork of people coming together off the back of a random invitation to meet their neighbours.

It reinforced for me the importance of connection with the people around us, and the impact that can come from creating a platform for conversations.

Thank you, to all the neighbours out there who show up and open up.

 

If you’d like to share your experience of starting conversations with neighbours, head to our Facebook page.


This blog post was sponsored by Claire Haggan, a generous Kickstarter backer and former neighbour - how appropriate! 

How to (imperfectly) talk to a stranger

How to (imperfectly) talk to a stranger

Starting a new project is a bit like starting a conversation with a stranger; it’s better to do a bit of something than a lot of nothing. There is rarely a perfect moment to start anything, so I’m trying to embrace imperfection over inaction. After all, it is our imperfections and actions that make us most interesting. The Japanese have a name for the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete; wabi sabi.

Talking Park Bench is a new project to test an idea. It’s an idea about how we might take the humble park bench and with a few simple tweaks, transform it into a place where strangers readily speak, listen and connect. Then we’ll reflect, learn, share and hopefully inspire others to create their own talking park benches, tailored to their style and neighbourhood. We’d also like to start a conversation about conversations, exploring themes such as human-scale cities, the art of good conversation, how technology is influencing social connection and the concerning rise of loneliness across many societies. We'll also share stories of conversations with strangers.

We may not have the formula right, but we’re trying it out. In the spirit of giving something a go, I encourage you to try something for yourself. Embrace imperfection, follow your curiosity and start a conversation with a stranger.

It could begin as simply as establishing eye contact, saying hello or complimenting the other person. A few days ago I was on the train and observed two strangers having a conversation. I wasn’t there for its beginning. When one man got off the train, I approached the other. After telling him about my curiosity about conversations between strangers (a fascinating conversation starter in itself!), I asked how the conversation had begun. He told me that he’d simply removed his bag from the seat to make room for the other man and apologised for the inconvenience. The other man noticed his French accent and, voilà, a conversation started!

At the moment, I’m experimenting with triangulation. Use something external to both yourself and the other person as a link, hence the three points in the triangle. Our Talking Park Bench pilot is itself an exercise in triangulation. Simply find something in the environment that is of interest to you. You might start with something neutral and innocuous like the shape of a particular cloud or the style of music that’s playing in the background. If you get a luke warm response, don’t take it personally. Not everyone is always up for a chat. If you’re feeling disheartened, keep in mind this quote from American film director Whit Stillman who said, ‘The best conversation you’ll ever have will be with a stranger.’ Now that’s a reason to channel your inner wabi sabi and try again.

 

If you’d like to share your experience of starting a conversation with a stranger, head to our Facebook page.


This blog post was sponsored by Eliza Gregory, a generous Kickstarter backer and inspiring creative based in San Francisco.

Coming soon

We're just gathering our thoughts in the lead up to the launch of the pilot.

A blog about starting conversations is brewing!

Scheduled for 1 October.