Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Architecture or affluence - which has had more impact on neighbour relations? Monday’s episode of Thinking Allowed on R4 was packed with up-to-date thinking about the ancient issues of community and neighbouring. It’s good to hear Paul Barker expressing scepticism about over-use of the C word. (So it’s not just me). And Laurie Taylor speaks to Emily Cockayne about some of the insights from her history of neighbours (which I wrote about here). Emily reminds us how central is the issue of privacy: ‘Once anybody gets a sense of privacy from their neighbours they want to hold onto it’. And she does not miss the chance to question efforts to reproduce the kinds of neighbouring of the past: ‘We don’t need to do the things for neighbours that people in the past used to do’. The discussion at the end of the programme points to but doesn’t quite get to grips with the comparison between architecturally-led change in neighbour relations over time, and relative affluence as a driver of such change. Paul Barker hints that he sees the economic force as the more dominant (and adds important reference to the distorting effect of childhood memories). Just now I can’t think of any research that has tried to explore and answer this question; but I’d just want to make the point that (a) affluence and architecturally-led privacy go together, but (b) they can impact on neighbour relations in different ways. History tends to present poverty as something collectively experienced. But increasingly when I visit neighbourhoods I feel that stark poverty is scattered almost invisibly around estates where some people are doing quite well. In a few houses you see signs that there are a couple of incomes, a couple of smart cars outside and the place is looked after. A few doors along, papered windows or broken gutters may betray a sudden deprivation or collapse. Our local practitioners know it’s there. The neighbourly and community connections may not be in place to respond to this fractured geography of poverty. As I write I’ve just been finalising arrangements for a public discussion on changing perceptions of neighbouring, that Emily and I are running at The Forum in Norwich on 21 June (more detail soon). And I’m also conscious that if time had allowed I would be at the University of Bath right now, sitting in on a fascinating conference about ‘The Experience of Neighbourliness in Europe, 1000-1600’. See also: Emily Cockayne's OU article on The decline of neighbourliness.

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