Thursday, 27 August 2009

Maybe neighbourhood blogs reflect neighbourhood demographics? A week back the ever-alert Nick Booth linked to this article claiming that 'Neighborhood blogs drive participation in city planning'. (Thanks to Hugh for nudging me onto it). The city of Seattle has been encouraging residents to fill out a survey to provide their feedback on the growth plan for each of their neighborhoods. How sensible. And it turns out that those neighbourhoods with a high level of responses 'already have a really strong blog presence in the neighborhood'. “There’s a lot of people already engaged in neighborhood issues through the blogs, and I think that’s what’s driven a lot of people to respond.” A reasonable assumption - so let's all jump to the conclusion that having a local online presence results in increased civic participation. Lots of us would like to believe it. But wouldn't it help to step back and think about the degree to which populations predisposed to offline civic participation (this is often closely associated with educational attainment) were getting active in neighbourhood online networks? Could it be that those more likely to be active in civic affairs are more likely to be active in neighbourhood blogs? To put it another way, isn't it just possible that people in the areas where a higher proportion are less affluent, less connected and less accustomed to having influence, might have neither the time and motivation to establish neighbourhood blogs nor the collective confidence or readiness to engage with civic structures? Just curious.
33% believe people would not pull together to improve neighbourhood The Citizenship Survey generates a lot of useful data that is helpfully repackaged by CLG. A topic report on community cohesion and social networks, from the 2007-08 survey, has been published today. It covers views of the immediate neighbourhood, views of the local area, and fear of crime and anti-social behaviour. The main headline is that 82 per cent agreed that their local area was a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. Another finding claims that 'Most people (68%) agreed that people in their neighbourhood would pull together to improve it.' That doesn't sound too high to me, so I checked the tables, which confirm that 33% 'tend to disagree' or 'definitely disagree'. There's an interesting 14 per cent discrepency with the headline cohesion figure, presumably mostly comprising people who think that those from different backgrounds get on well together in their neighbourhood as things are, but wouldn't be bothered to act collectively to bring about change. Other findings - Pakistani (85%), Indian (80%) and Black Caribbean (79%) people were more likely than White (75%) people to feel a strong sense of belonging to the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Chinese (50%) people were less likely than White (75%) people to strongly belong. Meaningful interaction with people from different backgrounds was highest among those aged 16 to 24 years (93%) and lowest amongst those aged 75 or over (52%). People with no religion (86%) were more likely than those with a religion (78%) to have regular meaningful interactions with people from different backgrounds. In the section about 'social networks', as far as I can see all the questions are about friends, which suggests a rather limited interpretation of social networks. I know you gotta start somewhere, but the risk with these kinds of authoritative statistics is that people start quoting them all over the place as gospel. 'Friendship networks' might have been a better heading.

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