House vs home
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about home lately, particular the importance of home. Not so much houses – or apartments, or units, or the like – as I already think about these quite a lot.
- I think about how houses fit in and complement their surrounds, how well designed they are internally (particularly in terms of sustainability and whether they are accessible for all), and how they ‘work’, in terms of the range and location of housing within a locality and how they therefore meet the communities’ needs.
- And, with varying degrees of success, I seek to develop controls, guidelines and assistance for those who are building, looking to buy or rent, or approving a housing project, so that their houses might address these considerations in the best way possible.
That’s part of the role of a strategic urban planner. But these houses are not homes – at least, not yet. They are future buildings where, hopefully, individuals, families and other household groups will feel at home. Homes do not exist in the absence of people. People with their own individual needs and tastes, people who live in them, and feel a degree of ownership and belonging within the dwelling, are needed to make a place a home.
The importance of home
I think the importance of ‘home’ has been on my mind lately partly because we are welcoming my sister-in-law and her family back to Melbourne after a couple of decades living in Europe. They have reached a stage where they want to ‘come home’ and are relocating this week. With other members of the family, we’ve been helping them prepare to come back to Australia (or, in the case of the children, to live here for the first time).
Our eyes have been opened to the importance of being settled in a home in order to start to make Australia your home. Most public schools require proof that you are established in a home – via purchase (or mortgage) or rent – before they will accept enrolment. You usually establish yourself within your local community through a school, sporting activities or other networks – or with neighbours – again, which requires you to have a home base.
For many people (fortunately not my sister in law), housing is the first step to then being able to gain employment, as it can be hard to focus on job searching without the security of a home, not to mention the need for contact details and the paraphernalia needed to present yourself well to gain employment. I think beautifully presented houses, or those with lots of character, are wonderful (my magazine collection attests to that, even if the reality is a fairly chaotic one at times). However I know that it’s more important that a house, a place, is welcoming and people have a place to call home than what it actually looks like.
Homes are so important – mostly because people are so important.
Things I’ve noticed lately
In the light of this, I’ve noticed the following:
- Complaints by some residents and businesses in central Melbourne (link), because the mere presence of homeless people ‘undermines their business’, or their enjoyment of the public park. I found it sad that they didn’t focus on the needs of those who were homeless – just wanted to see them ‘moved on’.
- More reporting, following the bombings in Paris and neighbouring towns, of the marginalisation of Jewish and Muslim people that has been happening for generations (link). This was something I only vaguely knew about, from some instances a couple of years ago. It’s particularly sad as this treatment is happening to French residents, in their homeland, just because of their belief systems. I think I am feeling the impacts a bit more due to how recently we were in France – where we found everyone very friendly*.
- The ongoing treatment of Asylum seekers here in Australia. Although I don’t think the solution is easy (and I can understand the worries of those here already who struggle in Australia), I feel like there is a general forgetfulness that we are talking about real people and their lives – and their desire to find a home. This article, from the The Shovel, while satirical, sadly has a ring of truth to it (link).
So what to do?
Despite my list above, I think it’s important not to be gloomy. We can all play a part in making change happen as we become aware of issues, and act on them.
- As noted in The Age article, the publicising of resident complaints has led to a counter response which (hopefully) will flow to better accommodation.
- There are small actions, like this one, (link) which as well as provide some funding for refugee advocacy and assistance, can also make our views known.
- And in the thinking about marginalised people in other communities, we can also think about how we interact within our own.
- And be aware and thankful when we do have great communities around us (thanks to our neighbours, for instance, for the bins and letter collecting this week!) – and look at how we might spread this to other areas of our lives.
It’s an issue I’m going to be thinking through, and sharing ideas about, more over this coming year – so any thoughts or information you have would be great!
How about you – what is most important to you about ‘home’? And what could we do to help those who struggle to feel ‘at home’?
* actually – with the exception of the metro system, Eurostar and their staff, but that’s a different story and not really relevant here (but sometime I will share because SO FRUSTRATING)