When I was a little girl, I couldn’t comprehend people living in buildings. I had an understanding that people worked and studied in tall concrete monoliths. For the first years of my life, there was our bungalow in a suburb in Parañaque and the brutalist-style office buildings of Makati, where my parents worked. Home was a subdivision with tree-lined streets. My parents were friends with our neighbors—some of those relationships were cemented long before my siblings and I came into the picture. I was friends with the children on the street and we had the sort of bicycle gang and aratilis tree-climbing adventures every elder millennial gets nostalgic over.
It comes as no surprise then that I have no template of what community life would look like in a residential building. I didn’t realize that condo living would be the default for a lot of families who wanted to live in the city. After years of condo dwelling, I also saw how Metro Manila completely disregards the needs of communities. Our urban setup leaves everyone to wall themselves up in enclaves to let them figure out civic duty, relationship-building, and group leisure. In my childhood subdivision, things were done essentially in that way, just with more green space.
In the years where we learned to make a home within a cube alongside other cubes, my husband and I still haven’t figured out how to make friends out of our neighbors.
We didn’t really need to make friends. We have friends and family scattered around the Metro.
I’ll admit though, we would feel pangs of jealousy whenever we’d walk through our hallway and hear laughter from kids or the smell of something delicious emanate from closed doors. It’s during those moments I wonder about the possibilities of knowing your neighbors. I don’t have stay-in help and it made me fantasize being able to leave our kid with a neighbor so we could watch a movie. Maybe they have kids and we could start carpool groups for after-school activities. Even the stereotype of being able to step out and ask for a cup of sugar next door had its appeal.
We’ve tried to befriend people in our building. We’ll smile at families we share the elevator with. We’ll make small talk with a mom bringing home a new baby in our floor. Sometimes we’ll even exchange names as we watch our children play in the play area—these are rare because it’s usually the yayas who bring the children out to play because the parents are working.
I regret to say that I haven’t learned how to move beyond those small interactions.
I have two theories . First, city living has demanded its people to place a premium on self-sufficiency. Condo dwellers have essentially lost their village of familial connections (unless said family has moved into the same building) and they don’t have the luxury to build new relationships while we’re thrown into the grind. The business of eating, sleeping, and personal leisure happen at home. We venture out of our cubes for everything else.
The second reason still has something to do with our tight social networks. If not by blood, we screen the people we want to spend time with through other markers such as school, work, and interests. These are things we communicate through conversation and familiarity we build over time—something a quick elevator exchange can never achieve.
Our building doesn’t have a communal area that would allow for people to hang out and foster organic relationships, which makes me think that most residential developers also don’t have a clue about what would make life more satisfying within its spaces. It’s something I’ll be thinking about more and more as the traffic situation worsens in Metro Manila and venturing out stops being the convenient solution.
I asked my husband one time if it would be creepy if I just slip pieces of paper underneath the doors of families we’ve noticed on our floor. “Hi! We’re the Darwins!” it will say, and it will describe what we do for a living, what we like to do for fun, and how old our daughter is. Maybe we can invite them over for a meal.
“That’s creepy,” he said.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.