Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Are there any community garden horror stories? Last week, in a session I helped to organise at the Millenium Library in Norwich, Fran Ellington from the Grapes Hill Community Garden Group got me wondering if there are any negative issues at all with community gardens. Of course, there can be instances of grumpy disinterest or even, as Fran told me, someone who resolutely tries to create obstacles. And there can be thefts or vandalism, usually overcome. But hearing about what has been achieved in a project that stimulates social interaction, has inexpensive health benefits, is broadly intergenerational and intercultural, is not time-limited and never finished, and which improves the visual appeal of a neighbourhood, you really get the sense that success is more probable than in most other sorts of community initiative. This is not to minimise the enormous effort, energy and people-skills needed to achieve something like this. But, I’m curious, are there any horror stories about community garden initiatives? Meanwhile, the Social Life project asks, Should every development have a community garden? I wonder: supposing every development just left a neglected or ‘confused’ eyesore space, whose presence inspires or infuriates residents to do stuff themselves… That’s a sort-of ‘built-in-adversity’ principle of community development, and it isn’t always going to work. What counts, as was clear from Fran Ellington’s experience and that of so many others recently, is reducing the bureaucratic constraints and the negative culture in authorities that stops people from getting sufficient momentum when they have an idea.
Are you connected to your neighbours? Here’s a little bit of data from Burlington, Vermont, in a recent city wide community engagement survey. As far as I can discover, the results have not been analysed into a report. Respondents were asked how connected they feel to their neighbours. Unfortunately a numbered scale was used, so it’s hard to turn it into a meaningful statement. But we can interpret the scale as: Not at all connected Not very connected Neither connected nor disconnected Fairly connected Very connected The survey’s authors can’t really claim this, but it suggests that 47 per cent of respondents feel connected to their neighbours, while 27 per cent don’t. If we take the ‘indifferent’ 26 per cent in the middle, plus the 98 out of 588 overall respondents who skipped the question, then the proportion of people who responded to the questionnaire as a whole, who feel connected to their neighbours, is less than 40 per cent. Which seems a little underwhelming for a survey of this nature, in which the more civically and socially minded are more likely to respond. Maybe it’s not surprising though. I can’t recall seeing the phrase ‘connected to your neighbours’ in a survey before, but it’s likely to be interpreted (certainly in the UK) as implying a closer degree of relationship to co-residents than most people are bothered about. It suggests a form of direct access that is different to just recognising who they are and which door you’d have to approach to find them. Via Front Porch Forum.

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