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Kevin Harris
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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 4 days ago at Neighbourhoods
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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 Neighbourly.co.nz, 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
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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
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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
Like many English people I’ve experienced occasional nationalistic abuse from Scottish people in the past; but given the often nasty historical abuse perpetrated by the English establishment all over the place I’m more than ready to overlook that. With a few hours to go to the true historical moment of the referendum, my thoughts are with those Scots who are riven with indecision. I hope they manage to reach a decision that they remain comfortable with. I also hope they exercise their right to vote. Yesterday I was told of a predicted turnout of 81 per cent, though one would hope it will be higher: on such a momentous occasion, how could nearly one in five citizens not be bothered? Among the numerous unresolved issues around the campaign, I’m still pondering these: Concerning all these economists and financiers and their predictions of economic disaster… can someone remind me of their economic forecasting competence and explain the basis for their integrity, impartiality and appreciation of social justice? Is it not perfectly reasonable for at least half a nation to vote on the principle of social justice rather than on the values peddled by an arrogant self-serving elite from another country? (That's a no-brainer if ever I heard one). I hope it will be rather more than half a nation. Will a Yes vote lead to the reinvention of a genuine politics of the left? And how long might that take? I reckon 5-10 years with a Yes vote. With a No vote, forget it, you’ll need to find a small independent country to emigrate to. Good luck to them. Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
Don’t follow leaders, said Dylan. Many people want to be in charge, and I’m aware that the English do not have a monopoly on this trait. But we do tend to do it in - how shall I say - a more polished and superior way than others. And in Scotland this week, as Suzanne Moore puts it in probably the best piece I’ve read on this tense topic, ‘Those in charge are all campaigning simply to be in charge.’ If you read nothing else about Scotland, read this one. Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
‘This app depends in large part on the wholly subjective judgments of its entirely anonymous and self-selecting user group, whose impressions about what makes a neighborhood unsavory are unreliable at best.’ Karston Capps, in the Atlantic, confronting the issue of 'social' technologies that can work against social cohesion, reviewing another ‘safety app built by white startuppers to help smartphone users avoid "sketchy" areas.’ More here on the BBC site. Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
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Linked-In being the un-navigable system that it is, it is hard for me to provide the source of this, but I thought it well-worth sharing. via Ronan O'Beirne on Linked In, via Paraic Hegarty. Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
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So the UK and Germany – according to some media coverage of a recent ONS report - are the 'least neighbourly' countries in the European Union. The report reproduces a hard-to-find figure from the Third European Quality of Life survey (3EQLS) which used a five point scale for the following statement: ‘I feel close to people in the area where I live.’ Some people might think that's as much about belonging or cohesion as it is about neighbourliness. For those who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, the average across the EU apparently was exactly two-thirds. For the UK it was a miserable 58.4 per cent – very narrowly superior to Germany’s 58.3 per cent. Here are two little curiosities. Cyprus appears at the top of the list of countries on this measure, with almost 81 per cent of respondents saying they feel close to people in the area where they live. However, Cyprus also has a very high rate (2.6%) of people who say they never have face-to-face contact with friends or neighbours outside the household (the UK figure is 1.4 per cent, similar to most countries). And Table 3 of the EQLS report on subjective well-being (2013) offers a finding which perhaps might have appealed to the more exploratory journalists in the recent coverage. It gives ‘the worst and best’ for all European countries in the study. The UK does quite well on the loneliness score, but has the following three ‘worsts’ – I think that means that, out of 27 European countries, the UK population is the most consistently knackered (whether rested or active) and with the lowest sense of neighbourhood belonging (which is what the latest ONS report confirms). ‘Consistently knackered’ can also serve to describe your blogger's state of health these past few months, hence the shortage of contributions in this space, but I hope the drought may now be over. Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
hi Matt - if you include an email address with your comment I can contact you (it will not be displayed on the blog) - kevin
All credit to the Italian judicial system for (a) finally getting former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to do something useful, and (b) for having a civilised legal condition that says no convicted criminal over the age of 70 should go to prison. This morally minuscule man is to carry out a paltry few hours a week working with volunteers (he is not a volunteer) at a hospice for Alzheimer patients. What will he be doing? I’m reminded of a traditional question in the community and voluntary sector: who cleans the toilets? In the community centre, in the day centre, the village hall – who gets to do this essential job? These are people we should have some respect for. It does suggest a role for Berlusconi if he ever wants to gain some genuine respect. Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
Last winter I prepared a lengthy literature review on older people and social isolation, for an exciting research project being run by WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto. The paper is now available and I hope will be very useful for the range of material it draws together. It covers material on the built and green environment; quality of life, health and well-being; and social support and connection. The project sought an understanding of the state and breadth of knowledge about the social isolation of older people in urban areas, with particular attention paid to housing form, and formal and informal care. The coverage is of international material in English. It was an overview rather than a systematic literature review – the huge literatures on ageing, health, quality of life, loneliness and so on, combined with a limited budget, precluded close reading of methodologies used in the material described. The bibliography covers nearly 500 separate items. Consistencies in the research emerge of course, but there are also a few fascinating inconsistencies – for example around the connection between religion, older people’s social networks, and well-being. Two characteristics of the literature struck me in particular as I was trawling and reading. The first is the stark invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people in any content that is not specifically about them. In the review I have distributed the material that is available, across several sections, so as not to compound that effect. The second is the number of calls that are made for increased participation of older people in decision making processes, alongside comparatively few accounts of such involvement. I’m indebted to Diane Dyson at WoodGreen and to Angus McCabe at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, for their support throughout. Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
Street market At the plant stall Danny is talking about the weather it's been so fine but cold. For April. One of me customers lost a load of stuff to the frost on Monday. So everyone says it's going to rain tomorrow, it’s my only day off, we organised a barbecue an' all didn't we. With the neighbours. And I can't stand them. Garden centre ‘My neighbour tried to give me one, they’re unstoppable. I don’t think she realised I’ve got one that’s reaching over her fence already.’ Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
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Not much has been made of the quiet irony that the city of Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games a few weeks before the country’s citizens vote for independence in September. This is surprising given the inescapable imperial connotations of the event and the rich vein of ironic defiance that seems to define the Scottish people. Until today, the organising body entertained seriously a proposal that the opening ceremony for those games should include the live demolition of the ‘Red Road flats’. We were told that this act was planned both as commemoration of a part of Glasgow's social history as well as a statement of the city's regeneration. If the proposal seems truly crass, so does the sense that those in question provoked the spirit of defiance and under-estimated the response. Today it was announced that the plans have been cancelled ‘because of safety and security concerns’. I’d describe the defiance of the organisers in this case as unworthy. It shouldn’t have required 15,000 signatures to a petition: a modicum of common sense would have done. My question is about how such a manifestly disrespectful and insensitive idea could have got as far as the agenda of the sub-committee of any sub-committee tasked with planning the event, let alone approved. How do we come to have people in public office who think the idea of watching homes being demolished is consistent with the celebration of international sporting endeavour? Perhaps the adoration of spectacle has got out of control. The spectacularisation of culture is not a trivial issue: many commentators have bemoaned the demise of subtlety and nuance in popular culture over the past couple of decades, as various media emphasise ‘impact’ above forms of culture that more modestly stimulate reflection. And we’re talking about places where people have lived. Surely in very few circumstances, even in the most blatantly necessary cases – think Fred West or Ian Huntley, if you must - can the destruction of a home be free of sadness. The notion of home is resonant with symbolism and with shared, long-lasting meaning: loss of home is always poignant and disturbing. It is a matter of deep shame for those concerned that they did not pause to reflect on this, but instead were somehow seduced by infantile imagined delight in the spectacle of falling totems, cascading breeze blocks and apocalyptic dust clouds. Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2014 at Neighbourhoods
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Who needs comedians, when we’ve got David Cameron. “Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago – I just want to see more of it,” Mr Cameron told an Easter reception in Downing Street. “If there are things that are stopping you from doing more, think of me as a giant Dyno-Rod to clear any blockages.” (In the Indie). Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2014 at Neighbourhoods