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Suburbs up close and too personal

Researcher Lynda Cheshire is studying how people live together in the suburbs.
Researcher Lynda Cheshire is studying how people live together in the suburbs. Contributed

ROBERT Frost famously said that "good fences make good neighbours", but a University of Queensland researcher has another theory.

Brisbane's Lynda Cheshire recently won a UQ Foundation research excellence award, providing $80,000 for her continuing research into conflict and neighbourly relations in the Brisbane suburbs.

"The statistics of growing complaints (about neighbours) is actually a national and international problem," Dr Cheshire said.

"People are reporting each other (to councils) now more than ever."

She will investigate two theories about why neighbours made formal complaints rather than discuss their disputes with their neighbours.

Theory number one: "There's a tension between neighbourliness and privacy."

Dr Cheshire said that in the past, neighbours more commonly had strong relationships with one another and, as a result, were well aware of the expectations of neighbourly conduct.

But today, neighbours remained "friendly, but not too friendly".

Dr Cheshire said that nowadays, as people attempted to maintain a respectful distance from their neighbours, expectations of neighbourly conduct may have become unclear.

She said conflict may occur as a result of (perhaps unintended) breaches in the unwritten rules of good neighbourly conduct.

"The neighbourhood has expectations of how you would behave," Dr Cheshire said.

The second theory Dr Cheshire will investigate is "public intimacy".

"(Public intimacy occurs when) people's private lives encroach on domestic spaces," she said.

"We may not know our neighbours' names, but we actually know a lot about them."

With increasing urbanisation, neighbours are living in close physical proximity, but may not be aware their private lives are encroaching on their neighbours.

"Neighbourhoods are changing," Dr Cheshire said.

"The thing about the Sunshine Coast is that's it's a very high-growth area."

Dr Cheshire has not researched neighbourly relations on the Sunshine Coast but said she would expect that the same issues affecting other high-growth areas would affect neighbourly relations here.

Factors that may impact neighbourhood harmony are: increasing population density, increased diversity in neighbourhoods, and changes in infrastructure, for example new buildings that block existing views.

"All this may impact on what we call the social order," Dr Cheshire said.

But lodging a formal complaint may not always be the best solution.

"Complaints can exacerbate existing tensions as well," she said.

"It's not the end of it and can lead to further tensions."

A Sunshine Coast Regional Council spokesman said the council recommended residents try to solve neighbourly problems directly with neighbours in the first instance, depending on the situation.

The spokesman also said the council usually attempted to mediate the situation before imposing sanctions, such as infringement notices.

Organisation Sunshine Coast Association of Residents (OSCAR) president Ian Christesen said people were less likely to get involved in anti-social activity when greater social connectedness existed.

"Generally speaking, when you've got a great deal of community cohesion … my history tells me council is less likely to get involved," Mr Christesen said.

He said dealing with neighbourhood complaints was expensive for councils.

Communities that respected people's lifestyles, and provided opportunities to foster relationships between neighbours, and good communication were likely to have fewer neighbourly disputes, he said.

"It's really about having a bit of empathy and understanding about other people as well," Mr Christesen said.

"(The expense of complaints is) a strong argument that council should be investing money in creating greater social cohesion."

Topics:  neighbours research university of queensland


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