It's great to have some data to get to grips with all of a sudden. I'll prepare a more detailed review as there is likely to be an event anounced soon, so just a few thoughts right now. I'm using the Co-Ops report written by Ed Mayo, I can't find the questions that were asked or any other data; and a preliminary summary of the Gumtree research, no final version being available yet. I'm grateful to Gumtree for permission to quote from this document.
The big headline from the Co-Ops study is that people in the UK are 'less than half' as neighbourly in 2010 as they were in 1982 when a set of interviews were carried out by MORI. As I mentioned the other day, their 'Good Neighbour Index' is based on 'the total number of people helped by their neighbours divided by the number whose neighbours have given them problems', so the statistic comes as no surprise.
You'd want to take account (the report doesn't) of the possibility that in 2010 people might more frequently and readily get some forms of help, like emotional and financial support, from remote others (beyond the neighbourhood) than they did in 1982. You could also speculate that there are more and better opportunities to report nuisance behaviour to authorities now than in the past, which encourages people to describe certain forms of behaviour as giving them problems. At the very least you'd reflect on the fact that the 2010 survey was carried out online and the 1982 survey wasn't. And maybe take account of significant changes in average household size.
Points like these are more by way of explanation for the statistic than challenging it directly: but they do raise the question of whether the model of neighbourliness represented by the Co-Ops index is capable of accommodating shifts in the social role of neighbouring. The study presents a chummy model of neighbouring which is essentially about helping each other out.
Many people prefer a model of neighbouring which is based on an ongoing respect for privacy coupled with mutual recognition, so that help can be mobilised in case of need. If you were measuring neighbourliness for that model, you'd ask different questions and expect to come up with a different answer.
The Gumtree report is determinedly upbeat, with more of an emphasis on attitudes to neighbourhood than on behaviour within it. The main headline is eyebrow-raisingly counter-intuitive:
27% of people with a long commute to work every day know 11 or more of their neighbours, whereas the majority of those who commute less know only 0-3 neighbours.
As with the Co-Ops and so many studies, what is meant by 'knowing' a neighbour appears to be 'know by name', which just perpetuates the unfortunate habit of over-privileging strong ties in the understanding of local social relations. This study is also an online survey, incidentally, and some thought needs to be given as to how that affects the results.
A second headline from the Gumtree findings is that neighbourliness has increased during the past 18 months. The researchers say that:
Even though we couldn’t detect a clear correlation between the recession and neighbourliness, people across the nation did indicate having tried to be friendlier and more neighbourly in the last 18 months.
I need to go deeper into some of this material but for the moment there are three areas to reflect on:
- The Co-Ops research raises for me what might be a critical issue of 'crossing the threshold'. It seems that people are far less likely to go into one another's homes. The americans call it 'refrigerator rights'. In the 1982 study to which the Co-Ops survey is compared, 26 per cent of respondents said they never called round next door. The proportion of responses in 2010 is 43 per cent. The decline could be related to changes in average household size, because smaller households create fewer reasons for mutual friendly invasion. Having an online sample is likely to cause distortion. There are various other possible factors of course, including the kinds of thing which lead people to keep their doors locked and not answer anyone. We need to keep an eye on this one.
- Nuisance neighbours: has there really been a rise? The Co-Ops research suggests a doubling and the world of anecdote supports that. The past couple of days I've been in Shipley, attending a housing and environment committee meeting, hovered a few hours in the community centre, followed by a street reps meeting, and there's no shortage of stories about difficult neighbours. We need to explore these findings: is it worse in general, worse in terms of severity of offence, or not much different? I heard a story yesterday about a deranged individual throwing a tv out of a flat three floors up; but I heard of exactly the same in Ruislip, west London, in about 1976.
- The lending of keys. I'm a great believer in this as an indicator of trust at the most local level, and it's helpful that both these surveys asked about it. Unfortunately they don't clearly distinguish holding a neighbour's key from having one's key held by another, but here's a little comparison:
Keys held by neighbour
Manchester neighbourliness review (2004): 26% (49% for those aged 65-74 yrs)
Co-Ops survey (2010): 27%
Gumtree (2010): 45%
I've no idea how the discrepency can be explained, but it is perhaps a little warning about drawing conclusions from a single set of data.
Finally, the Gumtree report finds that people want to be more involved locally but often are unsure how to take the first step. The classic example is when they miss the chance to introduce themselves to new neighbours, and find years later that they still haven't because a comparably straightforward opportunity does not arise. The report raises important questions about what devices - like street parties or online networks - might be appropriate to help people form connections. The data we are sifting through in the Networked Neighbourhoods study should help here: watch this space (or this one).