Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Neighbourly disagreements and recognition at the door The other day HBOS (Halifax and Bank of Scotland) got publicity for some research they had commissioned, which showed that noise was by far the most common cause of disagreements with neighbours. I suspect, but can't be sure, that the research covers England only. I'm feeling grumpy because some kids woke me, making a racket outside late last night, so I'm gonna be picky here. (And here's Hogarth's Enraged musician, a better choice of pic for this post). The headline is hardly surprising really but we should note the slackness of some of the language our media like to use. The question asked of respondents by researchers used the phrase 'Have you ever had a disagreement with a neighbour over...' A disagreement is not necessarily a row, or a dispute, or a conflict, or a 'falling-out'. All four of these terms were preferred by the Independent in its headline and the first two sentences of its coverage. So I think we can pass quietly over some of the media excitement about the finding that 64% identified noise as an issue on which we may have had a disagreement. Meanwhile, according to the Independent: "Other research suggests neighbour disputes may also arise because people have no relationship with those living closest to them. Four per cent of people said they would not recognise their neighbours if they came to the front door." That's more interesting and a good question to ask, although it could do with a bit more detail. Would you recognise all your neighbours? If you didn't recognise them and they weren't immediate neighbours, would you be inclined to redefine 'neighbour'? I've lived in the same house for the best part of twenty years, and I'm a committed pedestrian, but I only recently met one of my neighbours three doors along, two years after she'd moved in. But all the others I'd recognise, and several who are fifteen or twenty houses away round the corner. In terms of a resource as the basis for collective action in time of need, recognition at the door might be a rather more interesting measure than, say, questions about socialising in each others' houses, which always seem to me to be more about friendship and not necessarily about neighbouring. However, like much of our 'responsible' media, the Independent is not very good at informing us about its sources. Does anyone know where this finding came from? One last thought about the HBOS findings. Some 25% of people identified 'pets leaving mess in the garden' as a cause of disagreement. This hides the seldom-acknowledged problem of cats. In my experience they are a far worse problem than dogs in this respect, being so unamenable to control, and yet in many cases you cannot know who the owner is, so how could you have a disagreement with them about it? People with young children can usually fence dogs out of their gardens so that kids can safely play, but cats are a different matter and...
Neighbourhood crime and anti-social behaviour The Audit Commission report on neighbourhood crime and anti-social behaviour, published today, says that crime and disorder reduction partnerships (CDRPs) and community safety partnerships (CSPs) need to have a better understanding of their individual neighbourhoods and the problems that matter to local people if they are to succeed in making people feel safer. The point that the report makes is that people's perceptions of their own safety in their neighbourhood tends to be very local; but the information that comes to them about crime, and the policies adopted in many local areas, are based on a wider local area and can be very misleading, overlooking 'pockets of low level disorder and anti-social behaviour.' So there are two factors in our thinking that need to be refined: the geographical scale to which CDRPs and CSPs pay attention; and the relation between fear of crime on the one hand, and disorder and anti-social behaviour on the other. I'm often thinking about the question of neighbourhood scale, and today I was re-reading one of the key papers on informal social control, Order born of chaos, published in Policy and politics in 2004. It offers various insights. From their findings Rowland Atkinson and John Flint suggest that 'some residents conceptualise a geographical range of intervention within which they are willing to enact control' (and, it seems, beyond which they are not willing to exercise it). They go on: 'informal social control at the level of the wider neighbourhood, which government policy seeks to enhance, is the very social and spatial scale at which residents are least willing to intervene in the governance of others.' These remarks remind me of discussions that occurred when I travelled with some residents from the Havelock estate (which comprises about 850 units) to visit the Pembroke Street estate (about 160 units) back in January. In particular they heard about the advantages of locally-based estate management and the transformed social relations associated with greater stability and a strong sense of neighbourhood identity. The visitors felt that their estate was just too large to effect the kinds of change that they could see operating successfully on Pembroke Street. As for the relation between the perception of low level disorder and anti-social behaviour in relation to crime - without wishing to double-glaze over broken window theory - it's worth making the point that research and policy have long been preoccupied with crime and have neglected people's experience of incivility, disrespect and disorder. (And there are some looming questions about civil relations between fast-moving people in dense urban situations that need to be thought about)... So the Audit Commission's approach is to be welcomed, and needs to be built on. Press release is here, report is here.

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