The Hood

It’s hard to pinpoint when the hood started or what started it. Was it when five siblings from a large and close-knit family lived in various combinations while going to the nearby university – with lots of visitors always passing through, veggie gardening and music? Was it when some good friends living in walking distance introduced them to a culture of replacing cars with bicycles, and sharing meals, beer brewing and garden produce? Or was it only a few years later, once five households – some family, some friends – were living in walking distance and they began to call themselves ‘hoodies’?

The hood is enigmatic. No one person can define it – the story belongs to whoever calls themselves a hoodie and has played a part in the spontaneous community that has evolved over the last seven years in Heidelberg West, a suburb in Melbourne’s north. The hood doesn’t have a formal structure, manifesto or intention. There are no rules on how to be a hoodie. You cannot formally join the hood, you just become part of it by moving in and participating. One can be as much a part of the community as desired.

For most people who live here, it is just their daily life and the choices involved. While no single statement can capture the values of everyone in the hood, one common thread important to many hoodies is living the good life: creative pursuits and making choices according to ethical principles.

Physically, the hood consists – at present – of 12 individual houses in very close proximity, mostly stretched across three local streets. Some of the fences between adjoining hood houses have been removed. Some households live in a rental, some in a share house, some own their home, and one family lives in a yurt. Almost half the households are made up of more than one family. At the moment, there are 45 people living here who call themselves hoodies, and there is a ‘hoodie diaspora’ of more than 20 people who have lived here in the past and still consider themselves part of the hood (‘once a hoodie, always a hoodie’ has become one of our mottos). Digitally, the hood is connected through various forms of social media, including recently established private Facebook groups and message loops (for instance, our ‘HoodieLeaks’ group with more than 50 members functions as a newsfeed, and ‘Hoodie Bulk Buys’ is used to arrange group purchases).

The great power of the hood comes from having family and friends with similar intentions close by to quickly gather critical mass if you want to start a project or need help. Big daunting tasks and little daily crises are much easier when shared, and much more fun to tackle with friends. If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable. Examples include the recent renovation of a hood house, the building of the hood pizza oven and bike/bus/car-pooling to bring hood children to kinder and school. Many hoodies share their interests and skills with others – from this have sprung various activities amongst small groups of hoodies. These range from yoga, fitness, swimming, singing, craft and life drawing groups to regular games nights and beer brewing; workshops on making soap, cheese and bread; annual tomato bottling and making kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.

The most intricate joint endeavour in the hood is to collectively care for a small herd of dairy goats. The goats live at one house in the hood, but have become a shared responsibility between roughly half the hoodies. Every day, a different household is responsible for cleaning, feeding and milking the goats and in turn gets to keep the manure and milk. ‘Annual goat meetings’ are held each summer and there are around ten specialised roles that are rotated yearly.

Sharing skills, resources and produce is big in the hood. Collectively owned resources include cars, cargo bicycles, a trailer, a chainsaw, lawn mowers, a coffee bean roaster and a flour mill. Many other resources are shared amongst hoodies, such as tools and equipment for tomato bottling, cheese making and beekeeping. Produce, products and services are traded frequently in the hood, ranging from cabinetry, pottery, bicycles, bicycle maintenance (bicycles are used a lot in the hood for recreation and to commute), IT support and language translations to childcare, meals, eggs, bread and garden produce (many hoodies have productive edible gardens). If you don’t have what you need in your own pantry, then you’re likely to find it in a neighbouring hood house, saving you a trip down to the shops.

The hood is a great place for children to grow up. Along with their exposure to the many varied personalities and ways of life in the hood, they benefit from the strong safety net of community support. Those who don’t have their own children enjoy the privilege of close familial relationships with hood children. Hoodies young and old alike benefit from the diversity in age – adults range from mid twenties to fifties, and children have playmates of all ages.

Both organised and spontaneous gatherings are a common occurrence. Creativity is an important part of hood life with art, music, laughter, good food and celebration at its heart. Hoodies gather regularly for birthdays, pizza nights or a beer on the deck. Halloween and Chinese New Year have become mainstays on the hood calendar. Other organised hood events have included edible garden tours, a tomato harvest feast, an olive tasting and beer tasting days.

The notion of living communally in the suburbs with so many people, even as informally as in the hood, is a rare alternative to the mainstream of Australian suburban life. Yet the hood retains a very relaxed atmosphere of people just going about their daily life. It feels very real and there is an air of excitement about the shared experiment and how it will unfold into the future.

Interview with Maria Cameron from ‘The Hood’

See article here.

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