Thursday, 30 November 2006

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Neighbourliness, informality, and informal social control The past few weeks have seen the publication of three documents which together, in my view, contribute significantly to the arguments around neighbourliness, informality, and informal social control: a pamphlet by Samuel Jones on conversation, Talk us into it, published by Demos a JRF report on Neighbourhood security and urban change by Martin Innes and Vanessa Jones (Findings. Report) Respect_in_the_neighbourhood , edited by meself and published by Russell House. Samuel Jones's argument resonates on a drum that various people (like Alison Gilchrist, Susie Hay, David Wilcox, Geoff Mulgan, me in my small corner, and others) have been banging for a while now - there ain't enough of the right kind of conversations happening in the public realm. His main point is not that people are talking about public affairs less, but that they are engaging less frequently in the means by which their conversation can become public. The resources that drive the public realm have been channelled to more personal interests, 'draining social capital and bankrupting the public sphere.' So we've hit a crisis which requires us to 'refresh our public realm in ways acclimatised to the new means by which we pursue our personalised preference and our more particular ways of seeking information.' Compare this from the introduction to the Respect book: 'The challenge is to replenish society’s depleted stock of skills in engaging and recognising the legitimate interests of others, of learning to challenge behaviour within a shared understanding; to hone our readiness to show consideration to others, whether we know them or not. It’s not that we don’t do this: it’s just that we tend to avoid doing it with those with whom we have little in common. It’s as if - conditioned to the taciturnity of the supermarket checkout rather than the inevitable greetings of the corner shop - we have abandoned the practice of conducting trivial interactions, because they don’t matter to us. But they do matter, and we need somehow to rediscover the vernacular of mundane encounters.' The Respect book emphasises the importance of informality in terms of neighbourly relations, social capital, and the occupation of public space. There are numerous resonances with the Demos pamphlet: for example in our exploration and explanation of the tensions between local social relations and personal social networks, or in the way we probe the effects of the privatisation of social life. The book has two quite striking research chapters, two practitioners' chapters, a discussion of the notion of respect, an analysis of contemporary neighbouring, a comparative review of UK, Dutch and Flemish policy, and a discussion of the role of policy in local social relations. It argues that there is a profound and enduring connection between neighbouring, civility and a broader understanding of democratic participation. As you would expect, much of the book is concerned with informal social control, which is a key theme in the study by Innes and Jones. Their research looked at how crime, physical disorder and antisocial behaviour shape the ways that places...
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Twenty-five years on 20 estates Research by LSE Housing into 20 housing estates in England over the past 25 years suggests most have improved by a range of criteria. These were places described as 'unpopular' and typical of estates that attracted a succession of regeneration programmes and initiatives. They were tracked through visits and interviews in 1982, 1988, 1994 and 2005. The researchers found that the estates 'have reduced gaps with their local authorities and the nation as a whole on two neighbourhood renewal target areas: employment and education. Estate-based information on crime cannot be compared with wider areas as it is qualitative, but estate trends were moving in the same direction as local and national ones.' The report authors remind us that neighbourhood improvement does not necessarily equate to improvements for individuals: 'While the overall circumstances for those living in the estates in 2005 appear better on many measures than they were in 1994 and better still than in 1980, it is possible that the personal situation of at least some members of earlier generations of residents has not improved or has even got worse.' Two things strike me. First, the sheer amount of resources that it has taken over the years to remedy the problems and to minimise the mix of social, economic and structural disintegration that seems to gather pace if such neighbourhoods are not managed. And secondly, this report justifies the sense that policy attention has begun to shift focus from physical regeneration to behaviour and relationships. When estate residents were asked what improvements they'd most like to see, like other residents nationwide, they were most concerned about dealing with crime and vandalism, and the provision of facilities for young people (ooh, wonder if there is thought to be a link between these two?) The report is published by JRF and is available here.

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