Sunday, 22 April 2012

Reality checks A few days ago I went back to listen to a BBC Woman’s Hour programme from before Christmas which had an article about neighbourliness. It included a conversation with Helen Hibberd, Co-ordinator of Chorlton Good Neighbours (which I’ve mentioned recently) and Liz Richardson, from Manchester University, who I think I can get away with calling the doyenne of community action research. One of the points that Liz was making was that people seem to want to be more friendly with their neighbours but feel shy and say there are things that inhibit them from ‘making the first move’ – echoing Lilian Linders’ research finding about ‘the request scruple’: the problem is on the demand side, not the supply side. As it happens I bumped into Liz at a meeting in London on Friday, and she told me that when she got home from the recording studio on the day the programme was made, she found there was a serious brawl going on in the street outside her house. For all the soullessness of contemporary neighbouring in some contexts, to which she had referred in her broadcast comments, here was a violent and bloody fight going on in the street. But, Liz assured me, the neighbours rallied round, saw off the attackers and cared for the wounded victim. Which reminded me of my own reality check, when talking about neighbourliness to camera a few years ago and finding that local kids were throwing stones at us. It would be better not to have such incidents, but at least they help stop some of us getting soppy about ‘community’ and neighbourly relations.
Getting something back from baby boomers before they go I was at a Building Futures debate last night at the RIBA, part of their investigation into ‘how cities adapt to the changing requirements of an ageing population’. Among the speakers were Alan Hatton-Yeo of the Beth Johnson Foundation, and Indy Johar of 00. I just want to note here a couple of points that Indy made which struck me as particularly important. First, he argued against distinguishing any single age group in public debate where it pits one group against another: ‘intergenerational warfare is completely pointless’. This is part of an argument to get away from single segment politics, a tradition exploited by many politicians and single issue lobby groups. Rather, we should be working out how to do intergenerational planning and intergenerational economics. Indy then went on to argue the need for a process of intergenerational wealth transfer, because this has broken down, and inadequate levels of house building have contributed to the collapse. He identified a contrast between older people’s insistence on independence, and the fact that there will of necessity be an increase in intergenerational households whether they like it or not. This led to a welcome blast at the so-called baby boomers (shades of The Pinch): ‘It’s about the baby boomers not talking about what they need, but standing up and talking about how they can contribute.’ What are the odds of that happening in significant numbers? Where, culturally or politically, is the stimulus for it? I find myself increasingly despondent at being part of arguably the most selfish and destructive generation in history, in this country, and I fear it will take more than wise words from Indy, or David Willetts's book, to slow things down, let alone reverse the damage. Someone persuade me otherwise.

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