Monday, 10 August 2009

Neighbourliness: decline and constraints To a community centre in north London, as the guest of West Euston Time Bank Intergenerational Poetry Project, no less, for a talk about neighbourliness. Everybody has something to say about the subject and there was plenty of discussion. People thought there has been a decline in neighbourliness, but when we talked about possible causes no-one mentioned cars. One explanation offered was that in an inner-city neighbourhood not so many people have them. For apartment-dwellers, factors like building design, local trade and parks were felt to be more influential in promoting or constraining sociability. Nobody mentioned television as a possible cause of decline either. There was plenty of talk about being reluctant to open the door to people. For instance someone said when she's home all day, there would be at least ten commercial callers, with or without leaflets, trying to sell or con her something. There's no point in her neighbours just knocking to see how she is or to borrow something, cos she ain't gonna answer. Such levels of pressure are invasive and cause people to adjust their conditons of privacy, thereby impacting on neighbourliness. Several people mentioned falling over in the street, and someone always comes and helps you, although it was suggested that a man who fell without a stick might be treated circumspectly. It does depend on there being pedestrians around though: people in cars don't tend to stop. By this time our discussion had broadened naturally into general local sociability and civility - 'neighbouring plus', you might call it. The group felt that use of mobile phones had a definite negative effect, and that cultural diversity presented problems, particularly around use of English. But someone referred with delight to the practice of spending time gardening out front (though it doesn't apply to most apartment-dwellers), because people stop and talk to you as they pass. Which reminded me of this mention of growing potatoes in the front garden.

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