I never knew my neighbours. Occasionally we’d shuffle past one another on the stairs, on days where we felt particularly emboldened a quick hello would be offered but usually we’d shyly avert eyes, these were not comfortable exchanges. My partner and I happily cocooned ourselves inside our home. We loved our home but the building was neglected and that reflected the communal disconnection.
I’ve experienced strong community on and off throughout my life; the sharing of time, energy, wisdom and laughter with others is something to cherish. Looking back there was often a common cause or interest that connected its members, music, locality and parenting all spring to mind. In our case it’s been a roof.
My partner came home one day from a sound recording job with a certain spring in his step. He’d been filming on a green roof and dared to dream, “we should get one.” Enthusiasm and dreaming go a long way in my book, I silenced the doubt that wanted to tell him it was impossible and sat with the idea. The more I read about green roofs, the more I knew it was something I wanted to do.
The thought of reimagining a space that was a big, empty, slab of concrete that’s sole purpose was hanging clothes and had none of the other sort of soul was all consuming. We were in. What I haven’t mentioned is that we live in a 1950s apartment block in inner city Melbourne, the roof is not ours but our neighbours too, we’d needed them to believe that ours was a dream worth sharing.
Surely they’d be immune to its charms like I was? The environmental benefits alone would be massive. A Green Roof lowers energy consumption because of the insulation properties of soil and plants. It reduces air pollution, noise pollution, absorbs heat from the sun rather than reflect it back into the atmosphere, absorbs rain water, stops flash flooding events and any water filtering through would be clean so the bay would not get polluted. Biodiversity would flourish. And then there was the human happiness factor.
I had neither the skillset nor the time to do it alone and I didn’t want to, I wanted it to be a shared journey with the people who I’d share it with. I reached out to my neighbours, the folk I shared space with and there was enough appetite to start the roof rolling. A small team of like-minded dreamers came together; tasks were divvied up, ideas were shared, skills were put to good use and the sprouts of community began to emerge.
We had the people, the passion, the space and the skills; we didn’t however have the money. Whether it was fate, the universe or blind luck, a State Government Grant calling for submissions for projects to help the water cycle in urban environments, landed in our laps with impeccable timing. Completing the application was a long and laborious task, but the carrot being dangled was particularly juicy. Months after applying a letter came in the post, the letter and the response we’d been waiting for and the dream started to feel very real.
The Green Roof was the most beautiful gift to community and the environment. We had a blooming beautiful garden on our rooftop, an oasis amongst the high-rises. Pathways surrounded by native grasses blowing in the wind. Bees happily gathering the pollen from flowering rosemary bushes, birds plucking berries from the salt bushes, butterflies and dragon flies dancing over the green lawn and drinking deeply from the bird bath. The yellow bulbine lilies and purple daisies basking brightly in the sunshine. This connection to the natural world delivered so many gifts. As if by magic our neighbours came out of their apartments and started to talking to each other. Everyone in awe of this special space that we’d all played a role in creating.
It became a hub of activity. Working bees were scheduled. Tables and benches were built from left over timber decking, old laundries were painted, vegetable boxes were filled with soil. Yoga classes, roof top cinema screenings and beehives are all in the pipeline, it would be a shame to stop dreaming after all. We lay on the lawn and looked into the sky. The breath of nature only a few steps away from our backdoors.
The garden created a shared interest, an opening for people to talk comfortably together. This connection extended beyond the roof. Ladders were borrowed, an emergency clove of garlic for a meal, collecting a courier delivery, looking after one another’s kids and keys have been exchanged for times we lock ourselves out. Many acts of kindness in the simplest ways. A perfect antidote for a happy mind.
Everyone needs a garden in the sky.