suggested by Geoff Smith of Marangaroo, Western Australia

The Problem:

Our families and communities are falling apart as we become isolated from each other. Our lifestyles and the architecture of our homes are not conducive to allowing extended family members, or others from our personal networks to spend time with us, where we can reciprocate support, provide respite, or share our thoughts and lives.

The Idea:
  • If you are building a new home, add a room/bed sitter/granny flat to the design. If you are buying or renting an established house/flat/townhouse, choose a property with one more bedroom than you need.
  • Use the room for relatives and friends to stay over in need of temporary support and a sympathetic ear. Or use the room for students and others from different parts of Australia and the world - international exchange students, overseas tertiary students; young people from rural Australia who need to board in the capital city, city people who want a stint in the Australian bush. Could be long term, weekends only, weekdays only, school holidays only, school term time only.
  • Use the room to provide foster care for a child. Or provide accommodation for an adult living alone (maybe couples) who can live independently, but who would value a supportive and warm niche in the complex distant society we're in. This might include people with mild intellectual disabilities, or mental health problems.
  • Get work closer to home, or change to a job with shorter or more flexible hours, to free you up to give time to your guest when needed.
  • Some of us have Family Rooms in our houses. Family Rooms are an acknowledgment of the importance of family members sharing time together. They should probably be called "Nuclear Family Rooms" because they are of limited value for an extended family.
  • If we can have Family Rooms, how about Community Rooms. A Community Room in your house is an acknowledgment that we have relationship responsibilities and opportunities beyond our selves, our partner, or our nuclear family.
  • A Community Room is a first practical step in facilitating opportunities for people from your extended family, the local community or other communities to share lives. It is in sharing lives that we will begin to heal our families, heal our local communities, heal our nation, heal our world, and heal ourselves.
  • Having a Community Room may cost extra (not necessarily) in mortgage or rent payments, but it is a statement to yourself about the value choices you are making &endash; social, moral and spiritual values over material values. It may mean you are unable to buy a later model car, perhaps fewer (or no) overseas holidays, a ten-year-old lounge suite instead of a new one, fewer or cheaper meals away from home. Your choice.
  • It may not be for everyone, or indeed for anyone, except at certain periods in their life &endash; perhaps only for those without children (yet), or after they have left.
  • There's little doubt it will not come without inconvenience to our lifestyles. Living with other people always does. Living responsibly, and open to the possibilities of community, even more so.
  • Is this really a social innovation? Hasn't this sort of thing been happening for generations? Yes, but now to a diminishing degree. There is little innovation ex-nihilo, if at all. Most innovation is borrowed from other places, other times, other contexts. This is one of those innovations borrowed from another time, and needs to be encouraged anew.