The Kensington Association is – in essence – about community betterment, enhancement, improvement … much like many community organisations I suppose – churches, schools, community centres, Rotary, the Neighbourhood House, businesses and the City of Melbourne.
All of us have our particular focus of activity and cohort of active and interested participators; all of us want to make Kensington a better place to live.
Many readers of North West City News (NWCN) will have read the excellent (recently concluded) 12-part series on the provision of housing in our society. In short, the message from the series was – everyone needs a good roof under which to make a good home … yes, everyone! Not just any old “roof”, because they don’t all serve our modern and special care needs, particularly since our homes are also becoming the places where we “work” and “learn” as well as eat, sleep, chill, love, and nest. It goes without saying that no matter how warm and wonderful our neighbours are – we are unlikely to feel Kensington is a great place to live if we don’t have a good “roof”!
I’ve recently been reflecting more precisely on the role that the Kensington Association (KA) plays in this pursuit of good homes for our good people and making Kensington a good and better place to live. Once you’ve got your “roof” we at KA don’t mow your lawns or fix your gutters, but we do try to keep an eye on the streets, the paths, the trees, the resting places, the services, and the traffic etc., to make sure they are in good working order, and that nothing is a particular pain (in the arse) for residents. We also try to make sure that anyone who wants to build a “roof” near you doesn’t make your life “less good”. That’s often the hard part!
I’ve also been interrogating the meaning of “community”, and what makes a good one. Thich Nhat Hanh (a renowned Buddhist monk and peace activist) tells the story of a conversation he had with Martin Luther King in 1966. He said, “we had a discussion about peace, freedom and community, and we agreed that without a community we cannot go very far”. Nice quote, but what are they thinking that the word means? If we say to our non-Kensington friends or family – “yeah, Kensington is a great community” – what makes us think that?
I’ve said that we need a “good roof” to feel it’s a great place, but while that certainly helps, there is no guarantee. So, what is the operative factor?! Is it trees, safety, relative peacefulness, people, services, or open space? Each of us has our own sense of what it means. It doesn’t take many thought experiments to realise that “people” are a critical factor in any assessment. But what if it’s a very densely populated precinct, or on the other extreme, quite desolate? Either would be challenging! For me it boils down to the connections or relationships between people, and the “quality” of those connections. We know, for example, how neighbours, particularly those next door, can make or break our feelings about our “‘hood”.
For much of inner suburban Melbourne “home” has been a terrace or a detached house of some size and shape, but in Kensington we are gradually accumulating more apartment-style homes within large apartment blocks – namely Macaulay Rd developments. What will this mean for our future sense of community? Will an aggregation of such homes challenge or facilitate “quality” connections between people? Following one line of logic, “attached” or “connected” buildings might facilitate “attachment” or “connection” between people, but we know that’s somewhat faulty logic; it’s more complex. While we need “connection” we also need “privacy”, while we need personal closeness, we also need space, we like “activity” but also yearn for tranquillity. Yep, we’re hard to please, what suits one might not suit another, and when it comes to change we are cautious, suspicious, or protective of the status quo – often with good reason, but not always. The park development immediately east of Kensington Station is a case in point; strongly opposed by many neighbouring Rankins Rd residents, but now established it seems to be warmly embraced! In summary, the success or otherwise of this gradual change in Kensington, particularly around Macaulay Rd, will depend on balancing the human need for quality connections with the need for quality space.
One final reflection on “community”. A functional sense of community cannot happen when the area is too large and geographically divided. Kensington is divided by some major roads and railway lines which interfere with a sense of community. I think what we are really seeking is a more focussed and cosy sense of “hood”, where those human connections can be facilitated. Looking at the map I think Kensington has six or seven “‘hoods”.One could say – like a radio playlist … “old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones” … and changing ones! •