SINGAPORE - For quite some time now, we in Singapore have bemoaned the loss of neighbourliness - the kampung spirit - in our communities, and have argued passionately for its revival. Unfortunately, unless there is a collective will to do something about it, the kampung spirit, now highly endangered, is likely to become extinct, just like the kampungs after which many areas of Singapore have been named.
Our original kampung were made up of families and extended families, working together to survive and, sometimes, prosper. The men worked together in nearby plantations. The women spent their days together in the kampung, and so did the children. If they worked elsewhere, the men and women would return in the evening, and the kampung would come together for meals and for entertainment.
This constant engagement and interaction was the foundation of the kampung spirit. Residents were not just neighbours. They were friends, and even family.
Singapore society has evolved from the traditional kampung to the vertical kampung. Apartment living means dense populations living with many new neighbours.
But they are mostly strangers, not friends. We don't interact much anymore, nor do we depend on one another for survival. Modern convenience comes with a mortgage, and now more women are working. When we return home, most choose to retire to the privacy and comfort of our padlocked homes.
The decline of neighbourliness across the world follows a similar pattern. Dual-income families, the individualisation of leisure and entertainment, dense city living, greater physical mobility brought about by better public and private transport, and growing disparity in incomes, are all factors that have made neighbours more insular and less connected to one another.
It's time to update our idea of the kampung spirit with a simpler notion of neighbourliness.
Neighbourliness is, at its core, recognising that people who live near and around us form a community of potential friends and "family by proximity". It widens our traditional definition of community to go beyond kinship, nationality, race or social group such as work or school ties.
Neighbourliness reaches out to embrace people next door. It begins with the will or desire to connect with our neighbours. The need for neighbourliness is made even more urgent by dwindling family sizes, long hours at work and increased work-related travel.
As traditional kinship support weakens, and as our population ages, we need to build bonding communities in which people living near one another are able to give and receive help when needed. It must start with a recognition that we are mutually dependent on those who live around us.