City Square versus Suburban Disconnect
I recently took this photo while in Italy for one month. It is 7.30pm in Cagliari but it could be in any Italian city or town. Around this time local residents all come out and share the public space in their immediate area. From babies to the aged they gather in the square to eat, drink and play.
I was sitting at the bar having a beer and watching the scene unfold. The waitress brought me my beer then started talking to a neighbour watching her toddlers nearby. Then she picked up one of the kids who said “Mamma!” while receiving a kiss. As she worked the neighbours watched her kids in the square. Kids played together, dogs played together and the adults young and old sat and talked. This simple daily ritual brings the whole community together in an open and free space for all.
I have never seen a scene such as this in my home town of Perth, Australia. We have expansive parks where kids can play, we have bars where adults talk and we have halls or clubs where people can meet but these places are never together. We segregate ourselves into our demographic subgroups when we socialise and our lives are poorer for it.
Perth is a city of suburbs full of big houses with big yards and empty streets. Our houses are filled with modern comforts and our fenced yards made to cater for play and relaxing. Most Perthlings like to come home to relax and spend most of their down time within the fences of their house. When they leave the house it is often to someone else house still private and disconnected from others in the community. Other outings are either to organised events for themselves or the kids or to hospitality businesses. These places are often far from home and we transport ourselves in our automotive bubble to and from the location.
At the bar or restaurant our licensing laws tell us we cannot engage with the street. These laws also mandate that children should not be present. Heaven forbid the waitress having her own child nearby. As a result parents of young children are excluded from our most important adult bonding rituals. They often feel isolated and detached from their friendship groups. How often have you seen young parents completely reinvent their friendship groups with the birth of a child? How many young parents feel isolated to the brink of depression as they adjust to this social exclusion?
As we age we can also become isolated. So many Perth friends will say “I am too old to go to bars now” even in middle age. Meanwhile in Italy the bar in the square is a place for all ages. Families and neighbours welcome all into this space without judgement. No one is too old or young to be denied the ability to connect with others who live around them.
As the size of our households diminishes we are in a loneliness epidemic. If you are unfortunate enough to not have close family or the social presence to make close friendships then in Perth you are literally alone. The Italian model of public living does not allow this to happen. If you are in your house and alone all you need to do is walk downstairs and into the square and you are a part of something.
words and image by Wade Ranson