Identifying who we are:
us as neighbours

Wherever we live, be it rural, urban, suburban or a newfangled edge city, we have neighbours.

Straight off, we can name a handful of people living nearby or maybe just recognise them by their faces. We accept that there may be more people in our neighbourhood who we personally don't know or maybe even recognise by face as locals. But they are all neighbours, by virtue of sharing the living in this particular location.

We can also name local some community groups and clubs which are collections of neighbours.

The volunteer fire party. The playcentre and the scouts groups. The senior citizens club.

Then there is another formal assemblage of people which has a life of its own in our neighbourhood, regardless of the individuals who make it up. The schools. The businesses. The service organisations and more.

Who else?

In addition, there are neighbours of other species. From birds to mammals, from insects to fishes, from trees and plants down to microbes.

In our society, we don't often think of neighbours as being something other than human. And why not? Within each neighbourhood, the total assembly of neighbours, of whatever species, are all using the same locations, as homes, as meeting places, as means of livelihoods.

There are so many individuals and species involved --how can we begin to understand our neighbours? Let alone understand our own role among them all!


1) Make a list of neighbours. Human, plant, animal and then some. Wild, domestic, native, exotic. Assemblies of humans -- clubs, groups, schools, etc, like flocks of birds or herds of cows -- are simpler to identify and quite adequate for the purpose at present. Create a formal copy. This is the beginning of your reference material about local ecology. Check this list with family and friends.

Or make up the list with friends in a local small group discussion (ie morning or afternoon tea) or a local public meeting (ie the garden or surf club meeting). Teachers, try this with your students. All these suggestions are of forums used both here and overseas to discuss local ecology.

2) Of all the species named, are there some which have a special meaning to people in your neighbourhood? Shellfish, whitebait or migrant wading birds, mushrooms, cabbage trees or clematis vines, kiore, pigs or ducks. Are there certain individual organisms: a certain tree, a resident dolphin, a tame bird? Find out how these neighbours are really getting on: do they have the space, the food, the special conditions they need?

3) And are there some people in the neighbourhood, or who perhaps visit it often, who have a long term or in depth experience with local places? These are people with a special meaning for the neighbourhood. Likely people Maori, perhaps Pakeha, or someone of Pacific Island or Asian cultures -- whatever the perspective, the background. What stories can they tell about your neighbourhood? The changes they have seen? What do they see as worries or a special treasures in your local places?

Highlights from Introductory Workshops
Part 3 Recognising how we live: glimpses of local ecology in action
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1997 Mary Gardner Proudly Supported by APC Converge