Estate Living Magazine Estate Living Issue 28 April - Page 10

One of the main reasons people move into residential estates is to recreate the sense of community typical of villages or small , well-defined suburbs .
Jennifer Stern
/ Of Interest

Size counts

One of the main reasons people move into residential estates is to recreate the sense of community typical of villages or small , well-defined suburbs .
People once knew their neighbours – and their neighbours ’ pets – and they memorised each other ’ s phone numbers . In their heads ! Kids played in the street or in public open spaces , wandered in and out of each other ’ s houses , and only came home when they were hungry .
There are still communities like this , and some estates approximate that halcyon era . But what is it that made villages work , and that can make a residential community into a real community ? There are lots of theories , but the most convincing is that proposed by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar . While studying apes and monkeys , Dunbar noticed that specific species of primates had pretty much the same troop size , regardless of their environment . If the troop started to get too big , it would split , and a splinter group would leave to start up somewhere else . He guessed he was onto something there – something that would affect humans as well as monkeys – so he tried to work out the connection . Eventually , he figured out that troop size was governed by the number of individuals that each member could keep track of – and that was determined by the size of their neocortex . If that was the case , he reckoned , he should be able to work out the ideal size of a human ‘ troop ’, and he did . It ’ s about 148 , so let ’ s say 150 .
villages had between 100 and 200 residents , most armies have companies of between 100 and 180 soldiers , and most church congregations fit in there too .
Once a community gets bigger , it becomes impossible to self-regulate just by peer pressure , so we need hierarchies , bosses and police . We need a structure to replace the informal structure that we could hold in our heads when the community was smaller .
It ’ s not a ‘ rule ’ and it ’ s not written in stone anywhere – it usually just happens . Think about it . Everything is going smoothly , the village ( church group / division / whatever ) is harmonious , and people are drawn to join , so it gets bigger . And then a bit bigger , but then , once it exceeds that magic number , people start rubbing up against each other .
The reason for this , Dunbar postulated , is that we can remember 150 people , we can relate to them personally , and we can remember the relationships between them . Community is all about trust – and you can ’ t trust people if you don ’ t know them . So it ’ s not a coincidence that many groups throughout history have numbered close to this magic number . From the Neolithic through to the 18th century , most
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