Friday, 25 November 2005

Home zones and moans and groans Some 61 local schemes in England were funded under the government’s Home Zones Challenge between 2001 and 2005. That ought to give us a wealth of experience to draw and reflect on, so I was prepared to spend quite a bit of time poring over the good practice evaluation from the challenge fund. It’s disappointing. It looks like a fairly expensive piece of work and yet adds little to existing ‘do’s and don’ts’ - in the original Sustrans/Transport2000 leaflet about lessons to be learned from the first nine pilots, for instance; or the nicely unsystematic and unpretentious list of ‘top tips’ on the Home Zones Challenge site. This report is written in a cautious, unambitious style that is often repetitive and sometimes is reduced to saying nothing, very tersely. It’s had money spent on its design but not on a competent proof-reader. But I think the main point is this: the literature about home zones is already pretty substantial and something that has received serious investment, in research and design, should make a significant contribution to that literature: this report doesn’t. Take the section on ‘Delivering stronger communities’ for example – The main outcome of successful Home Zones has been the development of stronger and more integrated local communities. This has being achieved [sic] by the active involvement of residents at all levels in the design process and is evident through community events such as Christmas carol services and barbecues as well as the setting up of ongoing activities such as gardening clubs. Home Zones have built on the natural affinity for people to socialise and provided them with opportunities to mix safely with others in areas where they previously felt intimidated. And that’s it. We’re left with a sense of wasted opportunity – all those projects could have provided us with a real wealth of insights into how local people perceive the transformations they’ve experienced and the process they went through to get it. The DfT pages give us no indication that a proper piece of research has been funded and will provide such insights. And I guess I use this space to make just one more forlorn plea, sigh, for a before-and-after social network analysis of a home zone area: why was this not done? And finally, sorry to be so negative, a more minor quibble. After spending some effort trying to get a hard copy I understand that there are no plans to print. But we’re talking about a 98 page document here, packed with images. Only the most committed or well-funded is going to print that out or read it on the screen. (And if you’re only publishing electronically, it does seem a shame not to include links to electronic documents in the ‘resources’ section). The IHIE has established a new Home Zones site, and case studies are beginning to appear there.

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