Kevin Harris, whose Neighbourhoods blog connects people and policy at street level, has written a terrific essay about everyday life and conditions on the Havelock estate in Southall, London. Kevin has been working there with Giles Lane of Proboscis, and Bev Carter from Partners in change, over the last 10 months.
Government these days is putting a lot of emphasis on devolving control of public services to local level, and has high hopes that citizens will play a more active part in their improvement. However, Kevin's essay brings home just how difficult it is in reality for people on the estate to make a difference to conditions.
Here's the abstract of Common knowledge: community development and communication on a housing estate
Residents striving to improve conditions on a low-income estate face a range of problems, some of which severely constrain their ability to act collectively. This essay offers an impressionistic view of conditions on the Havelock estate in Southall, west London, based on an assessment of the communication and information ecology, with the aim of clarifying the role that Social Tapestries might play in stimulating information flow and the sharing of ideas and knowledge.
The essay offers a snapshot of the physical conditions, low levels of social interaction, and "civic absence" that characterises the neighbourhood. It notes the sense of weakening community presence in the face of unresponsive environmental services and a looming drugs threat. It attempts to explain why participation in community initiatives is sometimes very difficult to establish or sustain, and it contrasts this reactive, fragmentary style of urban life with the contemporary image of lively urban consumption.