Saturday, 14 July 2007

A youth centre in every neighbourhood? If like me you found the Respect agenda and its media coverage uncomfortably closely associated with young people, it's time for a rethink. That agenda is now being subsumed under the responsibilities of the Department for children, schools and families, the 'children's ministry'. But Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian urges us not to be sceptical, regarding this as 'one of the best changes' in the brief for Ed Balls, the minister in question. As the emphasis shifts from punishment to prevention, expect a breath of fresh air. Balls says: "Respect goes both ways - respect by young people for others goes together with respect for them by the wider community." He talks enthusiastically about plans for a good youth centre in every neighbourhood, started up with £150m taken from defunct bank accounts. I don't know anything about these defunct bank accounts, although I can think of another budget, a small matter of £20bn, from which a fraction might have been handy. But I do think that a youth facility in every neighbourhood - and a 'good' one at that - is far closer to common sense than a single nuclear submarine farting around somewhere in the ocean. Curiously enough, I was in a workshop about neighbourhood care for older people the other day, where there was discussion about funding for quality neighbourhood schemes like the one in Brighton and Hove. Asked why there seemed to be no government funding, one of the members of the scheme said with quiet irony, 'I think it's all gone to Trident.' And if I'm sceptical about anything at the moment, it's the government's ability to include older people in its agenda. In the meantime, with regard to the future of the Respect agenda and policy for young people, I'll trust Polly's optimism.
Street why's CABE have just published another excellent and digestible briefing, on the design and use of streets, This way to better streets, which summarises recent research into ten 'successful' streets in England and Ireland. They range from a waterfront on a seaside town to a busy urban arterial route. This briefing, which also draws on CABE’s expertise on street design, sets out five key principles that local authorities and others involved in street design should follow – vision, commitment, integration, adaptation and coherence – if they are to achieve the same results locally. We have to accept that CABE's duty seems to be being stylishly upbeat while promoting relentless change within a project culture - the target audience is built environment professionals, not users or other interested parties like me. I mention this because the document will be of interest and value to others, but you can be put off when it starts like this: Maintain a strong physical and organisational vision. Solve problems within that framework, adapting structures and service delivery accordingly. Be confident as an organisation. Hmmm, it works for them I guess. There are some slightly afterthought-like remarks about climate change as an impending issue. But it's interesting to note the continuing gradual erosion of expert scientism in fields like this, as more attention is paid to human intangibles like users' experience of streets: Streets can serve as important statements of intent, helping to raise aspirations and demonstrate potential standards and quality. What's this, the morale of the economic troops? Civic leadership is trying to get up and strut like it used to. More here.

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