Friday, 21 December 2007

From private to civic to 'community' The government has published a vision for 'a new generation of open, accessible, inviting and environmentally friendly fire stations where communities can come together socially and crucially hear key fire safety advice.' Since I'm doing quite a bit of work with public libraries as local resources, I found myself reading the press release substituting 'library' for 'fire station'. The parallels are curious. The design of many fire stations - often intimidating and closed-looking Victorian buildings - does not make them naturally inviting places for the public. Stations can also play a greater role in promoting good community relations by opening up to them... The guide also suggests new uses for fire stations that would encourage the local community to visit their local fire station and thus help in engaging with the community to spread fire safety messages. The suggestions are: hosting community events and services; on site cash points; providing car parks in rural areas; and providing space for art displays. Some years ago I ran a workshop for the Library Association London branch, before which I put images on the wall and asked participants to identify the theme. The pictures included a doctor, a 19th century fire engine, a lifeboat, and a community-based online centre (I can't recall the others). This was about perceptions of public ownership. People forget that until my parents' generation, medical care was not publicly funded in the UK. The lifeboat service has never been publicly funded, and the fire service developed as a private initiative of insurance companies. So it's interesting to think about the transformation of fire stations from private through civic to 'community' buildings. Is this pattern comparable to that of libraries? If so, what comes after 'community'? Personal?

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