Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The commonwealth shames Not much has been made of the quiet irony that the city of Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games a few weeks before the country’s citizens vote for independence in September. This is surprising given the inescapable imperial connotations of the event and the rich vein of ironic defiance that seems to define the Scottish people. Until today, the organising body entertained seriously a proposal that the opening ceremony for those games should include the live demolition of the ‘Red Road flats’. We were told that this act was planned both as commemoration of a part of Glasgow's social history as well as a statement of the city's regeneration. If the proposal seems truly crass, so does the sense that those in question provoked the spirit of defiance and under-estimated the response. Today it was announced that the plans have been cancelled ‘because of safety and security concerns’. I’d describe the defiance of the organisers in this case as unworthy. It shouldn’t have required 15,000 signatures to a petition: a modicum of common sense would have done. My question is about how such a manifestly disrespectful and insensitive idea could have got as far as the agenda of the sub-committee of any sub-committee tasked with planning the event, let alone approved. How do we come to have people in public office who think the idea of watching homes being demolished is consistent with the celebration of international sporting endeavour? Perhaps the adoration of spectacle has got out of control. The spectacularisation of culture is not a trivial issue: many commentators have bemoaned the demise of subtlety and nuance in popular culture over the past couple of decades, as various media emphasise ‘impact’ above forms of culture that more modestly stimulate reflection. And we’re talking about places where people have lived. Surely in very few circumstances, even in the most blatantly necessary cases – think Fred West or Ian Huntley, if you must - can the destruction of a home be free of sadness. The notion of home is resonant with symbolism and with shared, long-lasting meaning: loss of home is always poignant and disturbing. It is a matter of deep shame for those concerned that they did not pause to reflect on this, but instead were somehow seduced by infantile imagined delight in the spectacle of falling totems, cascading breeze blocks and apocalyptic dust clouds.
Age friendly societies in our time? Last winter I prepared a lengthy literature review on older people and social isolation, for an exciting research project being run by WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto. The paper is now available and I hope will be very useful for the range of material it draws together. It covers material on the built and green environment; quality of life, health and well-being; and social support and connection. The project sought an understanding of the state and breadth of knowledge about the social isolation of older people in urban areas, with particular attention paid to housing form, and formal and informal care. The coverage is of international material in English. It was an overview rather than a systematic literature review – the huge literatures on ageing, health, quality of life, loneliness and so on, combined with a limited budget, precluded close reading of methodologies used in the material described. The bibliography covers nearly 500 separate items. Consistencies in the research emerge of course, but there are also a few fascinating inconsistencies – for example around the connection between religion, older people’s social networks, and well-being. Two characteristics of the literature struck me in particular as I was trawling and reading. The first is the stark invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people in any content that is not specifically about them. In the review I have distributed the material that is available, across several sections, so as not to compound that effect. The second is the number of calls that are made for increased participation of older people in decision making processes, alongside comparatively few accounts of such involvement. I’m indebted to Diane Dyson at WoodGreen and to Angus McCabe at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, for their support throughout.

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