Every day this week, I’ve driven past a dumped exercise bike sitting in front of one of the waste centres in my townhouse complex.
A few days ago, a sign appeared taped to the bike, scrawled angrily in black ink: “To whoever dumped this bike – um … no. Take it to the tip!!”
Needless to say, the bike has remained there. It is just the latest in a long line of household furniture, appliances and other unwanted items that have found their way in the dead of night to the skips, where they are definitely not allowed to be left.
Not long after the bike appeared, I read another frustrated neighbour’s post on our residents’ Facebook group.
“I just pulled Oporto takeaway rubbish out of the green waste bin. Seriously, people. It’s not that hard to live in society.”
The irritation is clearly building, but the sad reality is that the sneaky behaviour will continue because, in a communal living situation like ours, there’s very little incentive for people to do the right thing. Rubbish dumping is only really the start of the issue. We’re also constantly getting notices from the body corporate about people hogging visitor parking spots, driving too fast through the complex, dumping e-scooters on the driveway, etc etc.
These behaviours are all minor in the grand scheme of things, but there is no real sense of responsibility or shared citizenship in the complex and in my view, that’s just the sad reality of this type of living. We have so many households crammed into a small area, living on top of each other with very little privacy or space, and we’re forced to interact for shared amenities, like the bins, the communal driveways, car parks and barbeque areas.
Yet most of us won’t even make eye contact when we meet, and I am more likely to know the names of the other dogs in the complex who have interacted with my dog than any of the people.
Is this just the way neighbourhoods are now? Increased density means the days of quiet suburban streets where you know all of your neighbours are slowly becoming a thing of the past, and instead, we now have triple the number of neighbours and less impetus to actually meet any of them.
Contrast this to a recent visit to my parents’ place. They live on a property on the outskirts of Canberra, and despite being separated from their neighbours by kilometres on either side, they know literally all of them. Mum told me yesterday that her check engine light came on her car the other day and my dad was out of town. She just dropped by the neighbour’s place and he checked it out, topped up her coolant and sent her on her way. It was such a lovely display of community, and if anything, made it even clearer to me how lacking that is in my own neighbourhood.
Even as I type this, though, I would feel very weird about knocking on my neighbour’s doors to say hello and introduce myself. Partly I think this is generational – my generation is notorious for not wanting to interact with people if we can get away with it. We’re the reason for ‘no talking’ hair salons and contactless delivery continuing long after COVID. But I also think it’s a society-wide shift, to a degree, away from a sense of neighbourhood identity towards more individual-focused households.
How can we expect people to follow the rules and have a sense of shared responsibility in communal living situations when we don’t even know our neighbours as people? Despite the narky notes and Facebook comments, that exercise bike is still there a week later, and more detritus appears to be accumulating at other bin sites around the complex.
Something tells me it won’t go anywhere until someone is frustrated enough to drive it to the tip themselves.