The Valla Community
Robert Putnam coined the term ‘social capital’ which refers to community bonds and interpersonal connections, as important for the public good as economic wellbeing.
Valla is a village spilt by the highway into Valla Beach and Valla Rural with a population of about 1,000. The Valla Beach Community Association (VBCA) hold a market on the first Saturday of every even month, regular meetings and occasional fun days. This year it was called Lark in the Park, and a great success.
Robert Putnam’s book ‘Bowling Alone: The Decline and Revival of American Community’ claims social capital has declined dramatically since the 1970s judged by factors such as, membership of voluntary organisations, and levels of philanthropy. There’s been a decline of 40% in the frequency families eat together.
Putnam found national samples of Americans asked every month for the last 25 years about their community involvement – ‘Have you in the course of the last 12 months been an officer, or a committee member of any local organisation, not just one of the old Funny Hat organisations, New Age poetry counts here.”
Andrew Leigh follows Putnam on social capital in Australia with his book titled ‘Disconnected’. We are less likely to participate in civic activities like volunteering or belonging to unions, political parties, churches or sports clubs. Community is about participation, about a reciprocal web of duties and responsibilities.
Why the decline? We interact online from banking to buying books, we watch more TV, spend more time on social media and the internet, commute to work (Putnam states that in America every ten minutes of additional commuting time cuts all forms of social connection by 10%), and work often involves long hours, or we work at home. Women are fully engaged in the workforce and not at home. Talking to strangers in the shops or on buses is dying out.
We are becoming private, yet the problems we face are common problems and not just for our species.
Australia is the lucky country but we have rising inequality, unsustainable economic policies, an ageing population, crude refugee policies and overarching these is a growing environmental crisis.
Aboriginal cultures have traditionally much wider kinship networks and tighter community bonds.
“What ultimately defines civic environmentalism and distinguishes it from other forms of social action is the explicit link between environmental problem-solving and the goal of community building. Civic environmentalism is fundamentally about ensuring the quality and sustainability of our communities, economically, socially, and environmentally.’ William Shutkin, The Land that Could Be, 2000.