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Kevin Harris
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I’ve been reviewing the documentation for a number of Good Neighbour schemes recently, as part of a process and impact evaluation that I'm working on. The descriptions of what schemes offer is generally very consistent: in addition to the universal offer of transport to hospitals and shops etc, they often include reference to helping with basic household tasks like ‘changing a light-bulb’. It happens that I’ve also had builders in recently, and had to go with them to buy various bits and pieces including ceiling lights for the bathroom. The lights that have now been fitted have an estimated life, I’m told, of 35,000 hours. At an average of, say, an hour-per-day, they can be expected to last around 95 years. Hoorah for technological progress. But as I get older, there’s one less reason to have a volunteer come round and check on me while doing handy things about the house. What we have here is another variation on what I have called Kev's Automatic Door Principle, which notes that ‘there are distinct advantages to using technology to open doors for us: especially for people who use wheelchairs, also of course if you are overloaded with luggage; but automatic doors do not have to be held open for the lady with the stick just behind you, or for that bloke with the buggy just approaching. This is technology confiscating tiny social interactions.’ I mentioned another instance - external security boxes – here. And just to be clear, I am not suggesting that there aren’t technological advances helping us in the opposite direction. Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
I set out for a run at about five this morning, and wobbled round the corner up towards some nearby almshouses. In the faint light from at least 50 metres I thought I could make out a figure at one of the doors. As I drew closer I realised it was an elderly lady, on her doorstep, bent over and reaching down for something. 'Excuse me' says I, 'are you alright?' Then I saw a pack of potatoes on the ground below a couple of steps. The woman stood in her nightie holding onto the doorframe, groping at and failing to grasp the pack (which presumably had been left by the milkman) and was in danger of toppling forward onto the path. I passed her the spuds. And conscious that, déshabillé at that hour, she probably wouldn’t want to engage in any more conversation than I would, I moved on with just a few words. She thanked me laughing and said ‘Don’t get old’. Incidentally, if you're one of these people who assumes that when you're sleeping, so is everyone else around you, you might be surprised. Neighbourhood encounters happen at all hours. Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
JRF’s programme on risk and trust in everyday relationships was designed to break new ground and it has done so, with a range of stimulating papers. The latest is Landscapes of helping, an absorbing report on informal helping – ‘kindliness’ - at local level, by Meg Allen, Helen Spandler, Yvonne Prendergast and Lynn Frogget. It’s based on an extended case study in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Perhaps because the theme overlaps strongly with issues of neighbouring and neighbourliness, I was privileged to have sight of a draft of this report. I admire the way the authors have drawn out a number of mechanisms that foster kindliness while simultaneously contributing to neighbourliness and sociality. These they describe as: Making kindliness palatable Nurturing bonders and bridgers ‘Creating a shared myth’ and ‘Building common cause’ Third spaces and ‘Hubs of helping’ as ‘ways of connecting communities’; and Creating kinder economies. Some of this we know about: for instance, community development practice and the literature of social capital already give us insights into how bonding and bridging capital can be nurtured, and we know quite a bit about third places, or think we do. But the first and last in the above list are striking as barely-charted areas for potential enquiry. Talking of barely-charted areas for enquiry, this paper helps us realise how little the notion of kindliness is discussed, reflected on or researched. Here’s how the authors came through the entangling thicket of definition – acknowledging several difficulties in distinguishing concepts: ‘It was often difficult to identify boundaries between help within the family and outside; and low level help between neighbours could easily transform into longer-term more intensive support and care. We also found it difficult to distinguish between informal and more formalised (or semi-formal) help and our exploration of kindliness involved going through, and observing, semi-formal organisations who often mediate more informal relationships. ‘Similarly, while we started this research trying to distinguish between giving and receiving help, we increasingly realised that this distinction was hard to sustain. In everyday life it is not always possible, or desirable, to separate out the needs of the self and the needs of others (Munn-Giddings, 2001). People practise kindliness, not only to help others, but to help themselves, and to improve the communities in which they live.’ Ah, I recognise this part of the landscape: we’re back at the corner of Altruism Avenue and Reciprocity Road. And it’s good to know that informal and semi-formal relations in neighbourhoods are receiving a bit of attention at last. While JRF continue pursuing their programme, my good friend Alison Gilchrist has recently won a Plowden Fellowship to explore the theme of ‘informality’ in relation to good governance and social justice. And less gloriously, I’m currently working on a project for Nesta to produce a process evaluation and impact evaluation of Good Neighbour schemes. More on that in due course. Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
Many years ago, oh before your time surely, as a student of information science I recall a moment of minor enlightenment when I understood a key point about information in a consumer society: information consumes, and what it consumes is attention. Several decades on I have just been intrigued by this article by Matthew B Crawford in the NYT. He posits an ‘attentional commons’ on the grounds that there is ‘a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed.’ The short-hand term for this legitimised aggression is spam, e.g. all those spam phone calls you may still get, and the spam snail-mail through the door, the interference from the charity salesperson on the high street, spam information on public display boards and so on. Crawford’s article feels like a worthy but desperate rear-guard salvo attempting to defend the collective during the assault on privacy. Is anyone interested? Part of the problem perhaps is that in a fierce battle around private attention intensified by personal networking technologies, to most people, collective social relations don’t seem such a big deal. Crawford suggests: ‘Of course, you can seal yourself off by putting on noise-canceling headphones, staring at a smartphone or opening a novel. But what is lost is the public space that is required for sociability, the kind that depends on people not being self-enclosed.’ Did we really have our own right to silence that it was possible to ‘sacrifice’? A couple of hundred years ago, strolling in London, you’d have been bombarded with spam of all sorts, with peddlers and beggars and tradespeople flinging demands and offers of all kinds at you. Go back further in history and reflect on any urban context, and you have to wonder how we can have come to assume a right not to be addressed. The class system did that, to an extent, otherwise there was an assumed right to spam others. Personally (ha) I would love to have the right not to be addressed, but I suspect it is a weak twentieth century social construct, and not robust enough to defend societies against the exclusionary momentum symbolised by gated communities, for example. And I wonder if Crawford has been paying attention, if I may put it like that. There is a counter-argument, and I fancy Keith Hampton would be pointing this out gently – people are more likely to spend time together in public spaces than they were 30 years ago. Something is going on here, and it may have to do with the shift from societies with strong normative centres to societies that are almost chaotically diverse. Try not to take it personally. As I noted some time ago, we still haven’t done our thinking about the changing nature of privacy. Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
I came across this quick-and-dirty advert outside a high street pub. In view of previous reports on the criminality of pavement chalking, is this form of communication permissible in commercial terms during recession? I'm sure the current government would approve of the enterprise. Previously: Pavement chalking anarchy again Pavement chalking: this time seen in a positive light Pavement chalking epidemic? Footnote on pavement chalking 'If it can be washed away, it's not graffiti. But' Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
A quick heads-UP for Julian Dobson's book, out now. How to save our town centres, published by Policy Press, "delves below the surface of empty buildings and ‘shop local’ campaigns to focus on the real issues: how the relationship between people and places is changing, how business is done and who benefits, and how the use and ownership of land affects us all." Knowing Julian it will be insightful, original, very well-informed, and well-written. How to Save Our Town Centres, published by Policy Press in February 2015, delves below the surface of empty buildings and ‘shop local’ campaigns to focus on the real issues: how the relationship between people and places is changing, how business is done and who benefits, and how the use and ownership of land affects us all. - See more at: How to Save Our Town Centres, published by Policy Press in February 2015, delves below the surface of empty buildings and ‘shop local’ campaigns to focus on the real issues: how the relationship between people and places is changing, how business is done and who benefits, and how the use and ownership of land affects us all. - See more at: How to Save Our Town Centres, published by Policy Press in February 2015, delves below the surface of empty buildings and ‘shop local’ campaigns to focus on the real issues: how the relationship between people and places is changing, how business is done and who benefits, and how the use and ownership of land affects us all. - See more at: Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
From the research point of view, stark honesty is always reassuring, however negative. I’ve just been going through some comments in a questionnaire survey and came across this little gem: Q. ‘To what extent do you tend to get involved in local community issues?’ A. ‘I can't be bothered. Nothing has really motivated me to get involved.’ OK, can we have the next question please? Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
Here’s a curate’s egg for yer. In Northern Ireland the Building Change Trust has just published what it calls a grassroots democracy toolkit for civil society. There’s lots to like. I was immediately impressed by the structure and design of the site: it neither overwhelms me with choice and information, nor feels stingy or shallow in what it is revealing. That’s a smart piece of design. Against that, there’s surely not much excuse for the peculiar masculine bias and old-fashioned total whiteness of faces in the graphics. More than 5 out of ten for sure, but a pity. Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
I just came across this concise news post (from October 2013) which I felt was well-worth sharing, from Whissendine in Rutland: 'In one sunny day, A gave B a blueberry bush, B gave A some alchemilla mollis, D used his 4x4 to pull out a shrub then B and E helped move D's greenhouse from his garden, via the gardens of B and A. Good neighbour co-operation?' Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
This week, with my colleague Alison Gilchrist, I had the privilege of spending time reflecting with a group of community researchers on their experience of carrying out survey interviews with local people. We’d asked them (and provided training and support of course) to administer questionnaires using Survey Gizmo on iPads, in the field, across three adjacent neighbourhoods. The session was full of insights and we’ll try to capture these systematically in due course. Here I just want to mention those which to us were the most striking. First, there were a couple of technical glitches as the iPad version of Survey Gizmo was not quite stable: these might thoroughly have dispirited most people, but our intrepid researchers overcame them in one way or another. Secondly, they faced and overcame resistance and rejection from some residents (with suggestions of racism, sexism and anti-student sentiment in one case) to meet the overall target and not be far off the sampling targets. Thirdly, we were hugely impressed at the level of collaboration between them, as they supported and encouraged one another in recruiting respondents. There were a couple of other lessons that we might have anticipated on beforehand, but hadn’t. To begin with, the time of year makes a significant difference: it can be really hard trying to find respondents and arrange appointments in winter when it starts getting dark at 3.30 in the afternoon. Our researchers felt they would be happy to do such an exercise again, but it would need to be spring or summer. What’s more, using iPads with automatic upload of completed data may be great from the overall research point of view, but from the interviewer’s point of view it means they’re strictly limited to one respondent at a time. If you have hard copy questionnaires that can be self-completed at least partially, you can work with a group of several when you catch them – perhaps as they emerge from a community centre event or are quiet-timing in the library. Some of our researchers were happy to do this and to accept the additional time required to key-in the responses. (And in the circumstances, as it happens, I’m comparatively relaxed about the risk of keying errors, although in other circumstances that would be a consideration). My last thought here is to reflect on the youngest of the group - who had struggled with one or two inconsiderate intermediaries, a number of failed appointments and other difficulties – telling us how she had most success in the local park at the weekend, when dog-walkers with unpressured time were willing to sit on a bench or even walk along, tapping at the iPad, just so that we could get our precious data. Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
‘I think for young people WiFi is almost a human right. You want us to succeed in the world and achieve our potential but nowadays that means accessing the internet for everything and we should be able to do this in a private and quiet space not just the communal area of a shared hostel.’ This comes from a new Lemos and Crane report on access, use and benefits of digital technology for homeless and ex-homeless people. The research uses two related samples – a questionnaire survey (the Lemos & Crane sample) and a survey conducted by Groundswell peer researchers. There are one or two striking findings. For instance: 73% of the Lemos & Crane participants said they used the internet to keep in touch with family and friends. That leaves a whopping 27 per cent who aren’t. 47% of the Groundswell participants agreed that the internet had information ‘which can make you paranoid’. This may be explained partly by the wording of the question, which seems slightly leading, but it’s still an indication of a sense of vulnerability. Participants typically felt confident using Facebook and other social media sites ‘but found office and word processing programmes difficult.’ ‘The majority learned by teaching themselves. Only 8% learned through training provided at services, typically older participants.’ ‘Problems included people posting unwanted pictures or comments on profiles, having profiles hacked and people finding them using Facebook with whom they no longer wanted contact. These specific concerns were mentioned by respondents across all age groups.’ Using an open question, the researchers found that participants expressed concerns about losing face-to-face contact with people: ‘There were two aspects of this concern: that loss of face-to-face contact would reduce levels of trust and connection between people, increasing isolation (67% of Groundswell respondents agreed that phones or computers stop people communicating properly) and that complex online systems would make accessing services more difficult.’ There’s a summary and a full report here (simple sign up required). (I recommend the full report as the summary shows signs of haste and lack of editing). Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
Apparently, the Wellington suburb of Tawa is the most "neighbourly" in New Zealand. Over the life of this blog I’ve referred a few times (e.g.) to the notion of ‘league-tabling’ neighbourliness, usually with a sense of half-disguised disquiet – a concern justified I think by the managerialism of recent governments. Much less frequently, I may just have expressed suspicions, once or twice, about the integrity of top-down commercial online systems operating at neighbourhood level. Let’s pop back to New Zealand, where it seems league-tabling has become a reality not through the insensitivities of target-obsessed ministers but as an expression of tacky commercial drive, through the online service Neighbourly. This is new to me, although I realise it may have been happening elsewhere around the world. As far as I can tell from this article (in a source owned by the same un-embarrassable company that owns Neighbourly), the suburb of Tawa has got to the top of the leaderboard by virtue of having more than 1100 residents signed up to the online system. That’s it. That’s the measure of neighbourliness. Dang, simple, how come I didn’t think of that? OK, I know, good stuff happens around online neighbourhood connections. And this isn’t ‘serious’ league-tabling; but it’s clear that some people take it seriously and think it has meaning. Which in turn makes it that bit easier for even a well-meaning government to follow suit in a determined manner. Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
If you happen to be in or around east London on Tuesday, you might find this interesting: Steven Ball and Laura Oldfield Ford will present their individual responses to the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate through the screening of Steven Ball and Rastko Novaković’s film ‘Concrete Heart Land’, and the presentation of drawings and a live reading of texts produced by Laura Oldfield Ford. 6pm on Tuesday 27 January 2015 Film and Drama Studio Arts 2 Building (first floor) Queen Mary University of London Mile End Road London E1 4NS Laura Oldfield Ford is a London-based artist and writer concerned with issues surrounding contemporary political protest, urbanism, architecture and memory. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2007 she has become well known for her politically active and poetic engagement with London as a site of social antagonism. She is the author of Savage Messiah. Concrete Heart Land, a film by Steven Ball and Rastko Novaković, exposes the social cleansing of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, South London. It marks the moment that the estate was finally lost as social housing to make way for an unjust 'regeneration' scheme. (Via URB-GEOG-FORUM@JISCMAIL.AC.UK) Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
I was drafting some text this afternoon about neighbourhood communication, for a project bid, when I was interrupted by a tap at the door. It was a neighbour, looking to return an outdoor ladder I had lent him a few days ago. It’s an ancient, heavy lump of a thing, possibly from the iron age, so we lugged it round together, which meant we had a couple of minutes to catch up briefly on domestic and personal news. In terms of the quotidian practice of neighbourly borrowing and lending, it was obviously unremarkable; but it illustrates nicely how ‘exchange of favours’ is not a watertight category, because it lubricates the exchange of information and other benefits that contribute to the valuable accretion of allowable knowledge, and hence a shared expectation of support that could be mobilised in time of need. (And yes, I am aware that mixing oil and water, as in the metaphor above, is questionable, but somehow I could not resist). Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
Ah, that was you was it?
Toggle Commented Jan 6, 2015 on Not seeing the neighbours around at Neighbourhoods
I just caught up with this paper last year by Gary Craig - who is always worth reading and hearing – offering a short history of community development in England. I’m glad I took the time. As the paper brings us up to date he notes (emphasis added): ‘There is a bipartisan view of community in Westminster which, paralleling the attacks on those who are not within the declining bubble of being hard-working decent people, sees community through the lens… of conformity, conditionality and moral prescription. Unfortunately most of the key organisations which might have contested this territory and the definitions it represents have either had to close or have been neutralised… ‘Remember that community development is not a neutral intervention but an ideologically contested one… Continue to ask yourself, whose side are you on? And if you are unsure, check back to the core values of community development, values which are about social justice and equality, respect and democratic control.’ Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
Here’s a curious survey finding: Almost 71 per cent of Kiwis cite ‘not seeing their neighbours around’ as the reason for not knowing them better. This comes from this article in Scoop, which I just caught up with, referring to a survey conducted by, an online networking service. It echoes the theme of ‘occupation of the neighbourhood’ that I bang on about from time to time. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything more about the survey on their site, but I assume that this phrase was one of a number of answer options, and perhaps the responses might have been ranked. It would be handy to know what the other options were. I also learned (here) that 78.6 per cent of respondents claim to have at least one neighbour ‘from whom they could borrow a cup of sugar’. This serves to remind me that one day I’d really like to include a survey question somewhere asking if anyone has ever borrowed a cup of sugar, anywhere. Where did this strange assumed tradition come from? And why is it perpetuated in surveys? Asking about holding neighbours' door keys might be more useful, I suggest. Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
I was out front filling window-sill cracks this morning when one of my elderly neighbours appeared alongside, with a bottle of medicine. ‘I don’t want to come too close,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a dreadful cold. But could you help me to open this?’ It had a modern child-proof cap, which I loosened. As he took the bottle back I thought, perhaps this is an innovation that post-dates the last time he took medicine? That would be characteristic, for this is a ruggedly independent, practical man who would seldom ask a favour. We talked briefly about other things and off he went. There are several classic neighbouring themes bound up in this tiny encounter: I’ll try to round them up concisely. First, it’s a reminder that when we ask survey questions about whether neighbours ‘exchange favours,’ the point is really about the latent potential for support, together with the readiness to draw on it. Time and again we’ve had studies on aspects of neighbouring which say this happens or that happens to a given percentage, but don’t help us to get at the ways of optimising informal support. Seeing me out there, from his window or door – and faced with a medical need he had not managed to resolve by himself – my neighbour took the opportunity to draw on the accretion of adequate familiarity from years of recognition and the occasional few, largely inconsequential words. As I noted some years ago, the essence of neighbouring is that it is low-level and relatively trivial, but it accumulates. Next, we have the old theme of visibly occupying the neighbourhood. I was outside and therefore legitimately open to interruption. It’s unlikely he would have gone round knocking, for such a favour. It reminded me of comments from a workshop participant years ago (reported here, p11), relating how long it had taken her to paint her front door, because of all the neighbourly conversations that followed from occupying that semi-private, pseudo-community space. I also recall someone in an audience deciding on the same basis that she was going to grow potatoes in her front garden. And two more points, based on the fact that we have been neighbours for 28 years. This exchange was nothing to do with ‘visiting in each other’s houses’ – as some surveys like to frame relations; nor was it anything to do with knowing names. We call each other by our first names; I don’t know his surname and I doubt he knows mine. I have never been in his house nor he in mine. An understanding of neighbouring that gets distracted by such details, it seems to me, risks overlooking more important ingredients: mainly - the fundamental importance of recurring visual recognition; that neighbouring is not the same as friendship; and that it is founded on respect for privacy and the navigability of semi-private space. Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2015 at Neighbourhoods
Latest in an inexhaustible series: Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
Of course neighbourhood life is affected by the climate. Round here, kids play out in summer, hardly at all in winter, not least because it gets dark so early. Yesterday I was running some sessions on participation, in a school class of 11-12 year-olds. At one point they were developing some debating propositions, including the following: 'Students should have to walk to school if they live less than fifteen minutes away.' When it came to it, there was a lot of support for the motion. But I was struck when one of the young people came up to me afterwards and said he sort of supported it, but what if it was raining? Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
As the impact of the ‘Great War’ is much in people’s minds at the moment, this blog offers some reflections on neighbourly support for older people, originally published (unparagraphed, in tiny font) in 1918. Lonely dwellers and their neighbours ‘It was stated in the newspapers recently that a woman, 73 years of age, living alone in a house in Gray’s Inn road, fell down stairs one Wednesday evening, and, being unable to move, was not discovered until the following Saturday. On the next day she died in the hospital to which she had been taken. Stories of this kind, or of solitary persons who die and whose bodies are only discovered after some time, are not infrequent, and such cases occur in the country as well as in great cities. Probably, however, they are rarer in rural districts and small towns, where eccentric characters and the poor and lonely are of greater interest to their neighbours than they are in the metropolis. It is difficult, indeed, to suggest any means which would prevent such an occurrence in the crowded area around Holborn, nor can we say that any duty of neighbourliness was neglected by those in her vicinity who went their daily way while an old woman lay at the foot of a staircase in a house which they had no reason for entering. Nor does society, the State, or the local authority appear to be called upon to interfere if persons of mature age , whether poor or not, prefer to live alone rather than in surroundings which would expose them to observation. In the absence of organised intervention it is usually the baker, or the milkman, or the postman, particularly the last in country districts, who reports that he cannot get the accustomed answer at a certain door, when further inquiry shows that a lonely dweller is ill or dead. It might conceivably be made an instruction to postmen to be observant in such matters, and to report the non-delivery of a letter through failure to get a reply to a knock at the door. But lonely dwellers receive few letters. There remain the baker and the milkman, whose services might also be requisitioned in normal times, but even then there are many cases where the customer fetches his own bread from a shop where his abode is not known. It is, indeed, likely that any such system as we have suggested, even if reinforced by the aid of the police, would not only lead to many false alarms, but would break down and be inoperative in a substantial proportion of genuine instances. Cases, therefore, such as that on which we have commented will continue to fill us with pity, but will not be averted unless and until the State undertakes even greater surveillance over the details of our daily lives than it does at present. Do we want that?’ The Lancet, 192(4959), 14 September 1918, 362-363. Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
As the UK government does its best to erode the European project, here’s a very scary reminder of how much there is to do. The latest EUKN report uses figures that measure poverty in terms of income, material deprivation - such as affording food, paying bills, sufficient heating etc - as well as living in a household of very low work intensity; and finds that 28 per cent of all children are living in poverty across Europe. If you don't find that disturbing, maybe think about it a little. Poverty and social exclusion are increasing at a greater rate in cities than in rural areas. The report notes that ‘Even the prospect of a job does not erase urban poverty as shown by the increase in numbers of the “working poor”’. Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
What’s needed to re-invigorate local democracy? Well we could start with an honest assessment of the state of local community information, and who contributes to it. Some years ago Hugh Flouch and I ran an unconference at Ofcom for people interested and involved in local online networks (sometimes unhelpfully called ‘hyperlocals’) in London. A number of recommendations emerged for modest pieces of work – e.g. around standards, training in journalism and editing etc – which wouldn’t have required much funding to ensure they happened. As far as I know no funding was secured and none of this work was ever carried forward. Despite the early enthusiasm and promise, and many remarkable examples of good practice, the local online networks movement can hardly be described as being in rude health; and I’m sure there is much reinvention of wheels. Meanwhile the state of local information provision around the country is dire. A new paper by Martin Moore for the Media Standards Trust notes that around the country, local council meetings now regularly go unattended and unreported. Moore argues that: Innovation in local news and information is urgently needed to address the decline in local newspapers and to help support and reinvent local news and community information for the 21st century Without such reinvention we risk weakening our civic communities and our local authorities becoming unaccountable There is a window of opportunity for the UK government to seed, through an independently run competition at no cost to the taxpayer, a flowering of innovation in news and information and civic technology at a local level The opportunity for innovation and growth will decline as non-UK technology platforms further colonise local media space. There's a little hyperbole here - local authorities won't suddenly become 'unaccountable' - but the argument is sound. I would have preferred less emphasis on competitive funding schemes, which have arbitrary effects, and more on (i) small-scale targetted grants that add value across the sector; and (ii) the social, economic and governmental benefits of involving more citizens in the production of their own news and the discussion of their own issues. I’ve recently been designing a questionnaire survey to be administered at a local level in east York, for a JRF-funded project. Among the questions we’ll be asking will be a few about local channels of information – how important are they? do local people contribute to them? and could local people be contributing to them more? Is a local resident-run website likely to encourage community involvement in local issues, or discourage it? Would it make for a more positive sense of local identity or a more negative one? By taking a non-tech, community development approach to such questions we may gain insights that will be valuable in re-invigorating the neighbourhood online networks movement: that certainly seems to be needed. Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
Recently I visited an area where there had been tensions around a proposed new development. I heard someone say that when they had moved into the village ten years ago, they’d been told there would be ‘council housing’ built on the fields opposite. And it does seem that there was something like a decade of planning, rumour, uncertainty and objection. Perhaps mischievously, much of this was characterised as people 'complaining that they would have nowhere to walk their dogs'. It’s likely there were more serious concerns. Nonetheless the new (mixed tenure) estate is now about half-built, with plenty of pleasant landscaped green space and paths (if few amenities), and is partially occupied. On my visit one of the new residents quipped: ‘They’ve a lovely space to walk the dogs, and they don’t have to put their wellies on.’ NIMBYism is easily over-simplified and caricatured, but there are studies to be done of the degree of correspondence between fierce objections to anticipated plans and the subsequent reality and experience. Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
Into the last mile of an early hour’s run last Saturday, I passed through a wicket onto fenced common land. The field is about a mile in perimeter and mainly used by dog-walkers plus a few other runners. I found the gate unfastened (there is a rather pointless leather strap that can be used to hold it in position) and I left it so, as it is more often than not. Fifty metres further on I heard a bellowing accusation, directed at me – ‘You might have shut the gate…’ I pointed out that I’d left it as I’d found it. There followed a torrent of abuse, extraordinarily loud for 06.35 in the morning. Amongst it all was the instruction, whatever the circumstances, to fasten the gate shut out of ‘respect for the public’. (That’s a subject I can claim to know a little about, but this feller wasn’t to know that. In that context, he provided a tidy example of anti-social behaviour in the public realm). He stomped off, telling me to fuck off. Bemused, I congratulated him on being sufficiently grown up to be able to swear at people. There are two other gates to the field, neither of which has a fastening. It’s possible he feared a marauding horde of fierce peasants from the estates of the nearby town, I really don’t know. But the self-evident folly of his attitude seemed to illustrate perfectly the arrogant, superior middle-class middle-England conviction that it is the right of the Haves to tell others how to behave, whatever the context. It was like a local echo of the Westminster approach to Scotland. I often puzzle over whether this is a universal phenomenon across time and geography. My experience from time spent in other countries suggests it is: but in England, with our centuries of pretend (and pretentious) imperial dominance, people do it better – with more emphasis, more conviction, more individual presumption of their own superiority. It seems such a shame. Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2014 at Neighbourhoods