Having children means losing friends? A discussion of network (part 1).

It has long been argued that human interactions are going along the route of networked communities. That is, we each exist in a network of relationships that are not geographically confined. Ray Oldenburg says that with the network, each of us has our own ‘personal community’. Typically our networks include those whom we met at school or university, those with whom we share a common interest, and those with whom we work. Personal choice is the winner – if we don’t like someone we can drop them from our network or move into another one. We choose who is in our community and who is not. We do not need to associate with people who share no common interest or, who we simply don’t like.

The loser, he argues, is genuine community centred around a geographic area and which includes those of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The networker is liberated from local gossip and prejudice and is free to choose his or her friends on more rational and more personal basis than that of mere geographic proximity. Unlike the unfortunate members of the poor and working classes, the networker need not form relationships with the neighbors fate has put next door and across the way. (265)

He goes on to argue that suburban residential areas are designed (subconsciously) with this in mind, with the assumption that all someone needs to do is jump in their car to access the community in their personal networks. The losers, Oldenburg claims, are all those who aren’t young- or middle-aged adults or those who don’t have access to decent transportation. Children are a problem, as they usually don’t fit into the networked adult community and those with children similarly often have to find new networks (i.e. a new community) to go to. Just when old friends are most welcome, a new mum has to make new ones!

Based on the finding of a study by Claude Fischer in 1982, Oldenburg laments:

Children restrict the activities of their parents – of mothers far more than fathers. The advent of a child depletes the energy a parent could otherwise devote to friends… Childless adults enjoy better moods that netter morale that those with children… The more children one has, the less he or she will be able to enjoy relationships with colleagues…. The message is clear. Children are not compatible with a filler realization of personal or liberated communities. (266)

We have certainly seen the effects of this on new-build developments. Many of the people who live here are professional people with commuter jobs. They have friends at work and through other networks and usually use their cars to access them. However, once the first child arrives and the mum is at home on maternity leave, access to these networks is cut off. Other new-build developments in the area have reported a higher than average instance of post-natal depression due to the isolation of the new mums – people simple didn’t know many people who lived in their locality!

Many of the mums we talk to drive around town to access baby and toddler activities. From our development the Children’s centres are quite some walk away. This is why we have gone down the route we have in trying to provide activities for mums of pre-schoolers. Even then, we have found that people are willing to drive to our development to join in!.

Interesting that Ray Oldenburg, writing initially in 1989 saw and predicted the same thing in American communities.

The second part will be about adolescents having nowhere to go.

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