A better way to live?


A Bumpspace series for the Fairground Foundation by Antonina Elliott

I’ve always been a fairly curious child. People, places and ideas are mysterious landscapes which I love to explore. I’m interested in their connections in terms of how things are related; what they look like; what these links entail and how they relate back to me. If at all. I get obsessed with details. Typical for a graphic designer like myself — we like to sweat the small stuff. Though as most people know, it’s the little things that count.

The books on my bookshelf have varied in topics over the years. I’ve been inspired to be more rather than have more by Erich Fromm’s ‘To have or to be’; been amazed at the complexity and beauty of our brains through Eric Kandel’s ‘In search of memory’ and felt the truth of my own impermanence on this earth with Christopher Hitchen’s ‘Mortality.’ I’ve learned what doesn’t make us happy in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s ‘The myths of happiness,’ and been in awe by the grandeur of the cosmos around us thanks to Lawrence Krauss’ ‘A universe from nothing.’

Through it all, I’ve noticed a thread of sorts. Something that has tugged away at my subconscious and my book-hungry wallet. Whether it be about life or death, unravelling myths and understanding how we come to believe in things and why, I’ve been searching and also compiling a manifesto of sorts on how to live a better life; how to be a better human and how to how to best appreciate and use the most precious resource we have of all: time.

I don’t believe, and would be skeptical of any assumption, that there is any one way of living. I just know there are some that work, and some that don’t. Some that make us better humans, more content. And some that make us simply miserable.

So when I first heard about Bumpspace, I felt immediately connected to it, believing that it would add to the manifesto for living better that I began piecing together all those years ago. Not a book, but an idea, a vision started from humble beginnings by fellow Kiwi, Malcolm Rands. Having founded the highly successful ecostore along with his wife Melanie, their environmentally and human-friendly products now go on to fund and support the not-for-profit organisation that is Fairground — a foundation with a purpose to create a better world. How exactly? By tackling social and environmental issues head on. With this in mind, the idea of Bumpspace — a not-your-ordinary-building-development in Auckland — was born.

Malcolm Rands, a tall, lively character is passionate about his cause, “At Fairground, we believe that humanity is moving into the city and I’m talking about big cities not provincial towns. And so we believe it’s every human’s right to live in the cities but also live in a quality home — a home which is completely green in materials and probably can even make its own electricity. It should be affordable and be right next to open green space so you have nature in your life as well.”

The development is one based on quality rather than quantity. Good quality materials and well designed spaces that allow you to ‘bump’ into your neighbour’s space, increasing chances of interactions and connections. By limiting its storey level to a maximum of three, the space will be more personal and communal spaces will be available for use. Bumpspace, Rands says, will be a “neighbourhood where you feel that you belong. Something that we’ve lost in the last 150 years.”

The problem Bumpspace is attempting to solve is a modern one. With migration into the cities where jobs and opportunities lie, familial breakdowns have also occurred as a result and the concept of village life where you knew people in your community has been lost. “For the last 150 years we’ve been playing around with the nuclear family model which can be alright, it’s a very mobile unit. But when there’s real trouble, where’s grandma? Where’s aunty? Where’s your cousin to help you out? They’re not there any more, and they are an essential part of human life.”

To add to this village breakdown trend, many people are living alone. “There’s a plague in Western society that people don’t really talk about which is called ‘loneliness.’ And people are getting sick because of loneliness. It’s affecting our whole society.”

Just like many mental processes, loneliness, namely chronic loneliness, soon manifests itself in our bodies as well. Described to be as harmful as 15 cigarettes a day, loneliness has been found to create physiological problems such as high cortisol levels and inflammation. Psychologist Jon Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, has been studying its effects for 21 years and describes how loneliness “is like an iceberg, we are conscious of the surface but there is a great deal more that is phylogenetically so deep that we cannot see it.”

A statistic in the US states that 30% more people are living alone today than there were in 1980. “Partly this is due to ageing and the fact that women live longer than men.” However it’s also because as people age and move into senior citizen homes, “they have been removed from a sense of family and friends and their neighbourhood,” comments Cacioppo.

The answer to alleviating loneliness, however, isn’t so straight forward, as getting out of loneliness takes reciprocal connections from those around you. Connections that perhaps would occur more regularly in Malcolm Rands’ Bumpspace. “Fairground,” he says, “is looking at is how do we reinvent the village within the city?”

Through its very design, Bumpspace encourages “every day bumping into people, very casually. And after a while you get to know people, you end up finding out their names, get familiar with them. After a few months you ask them to feed your cat while you’re away. After a few months more you’re thinking they can babysit your kids.”

While this sounded ideal, a part of me wondered if it would require too much from my introvert self because, although I love social connection, I can also be overwhelmed by it. But Rands reassures that the kind of interactions he’s talking about isn’t formal, “a lot of people in modern society are afraid of giving too much commitment to people around them. They want their privacy as well so it’s finding the balance between privacy and your individual home but also feeling you’re surrounded by people you know and they’re your neighbours.”

That balance includes being aware of common pitfalls which other eco-villages have failed in. One such area is overcommitment. “Two nasty things happen. One is you end up doing common jobs because you feel you have to, not because you want to. So for example you could be working in the common organic veggie garden and hating it. Whereas if you work in your own veggie garden and do exactly the same job you could be loving it. And the other side of it is that you can feel judged by your neighbours because you’re not pulling your weight. That is poisonous in any community.”

Rands describes, “In our neighbourhood, there’ll be very little jobs that you’ll have to do in the common. Say you had a swimming pool, you wouldn’t have a roster to clean the swimming pool. You’d get an outside contractor in to do it. And then you wouldn’t have all those ‘bloody Joneses, they never do their job right,’ complaints.”

Time well spent
Having co-founded and lived in a successful permaculture eco-village himself for 30 years (most crumble in less than half that time), Malcolm Rands knows that with the right kind of work put into the design, social and legal side of village life, Bumpspace could be both an attractive living option for urbanites and greenies alike as well as a commercially successful business. When asked if the timing was more ideal now seeing as more and more people jumped onto the green-living bandwagon, Rands assures his Bumpspace vision that began 30 years ago was rooted in anything but fads, “We’re weren’t even thinking about trends, this was what we wanted.”

As a soon-to-be first time mother (I write this in my 39th week of pregnancy), Bumpspace is also an environment that I would like for my unborn child. Village life can be great, having partially grown up in one back in my motherland Samoa. But like anything, it has its pros and cons. However if the cons were highlighted and eliminated, the spaces redesigned and the price and location ideal, it could work and people could flourish. Spaces like these fit into my manifesto for living better which I began years ago through the various books on my bookshelf. It’s also something I hope to continue for years to come. Because with our limited moment in the sun, living in spaces that encourage richer and deeper connections seems like a great way to spend our time — the most precious and unrenewable resource we have of all.

Written by Antonina Elliott