a quiet riot in norwood
It was only a few weeks ago that I return from London, thinking about all the wonderful things I had seen and how they might relate to City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters; ideas about place making and the notion of community building (things for the next blog instalment). Then just over a week ago, Britain and particularly London was gripped by social anarchy and I start thinking how on earth did this happen.
At the end of July, I was in Dalston and Hackney, soaking up a vibrant and emerging community spirit. Self-assured, adaptive and expressing a local sense of community that brought together all walks of life. The regeneration of Dalston appeared to be springing up everywhere, almost as an antidote to the hard economic times that are gripping the country. Local people (the tax payers) are now deciding how Council’s limited budgets should be spent. They, not Council, are deciding what is important and in the case of Dalston, the community have started with their open spaces, pocket parks and community gardens – places that they valued.
So how could the riots happen, when this community was starting to thrive? How could things change so quickly and what were the causes. Last week, I started to understand some of the reasons.
While attending the National Landscape Architecture Conference, I heard Sarah Gaventa speak about value and the importance of open space. Sarah used to be the director of the British Governments Open Space and Public Realm Design Unit, CABE (now disbanded). She highlighted the value of open space and how critical it is in enabling communities to create outcomes that they want. Sarah calmly told us that CABE had predicted the riots. How did they know? They had seen the lack investment in good quality open space provision, which was compounded by a lack of maintenance and limited asset renewal. They had heard the despondent appeals of the community for greater respect.
Whilst the catalyst for the riots was unusual, one of the underlying symptoms was simple. The communities and particularly, the youth of inner city London felt worthless. There was nothing in their environment that demonstrated that Council or the Government valued them. Although the people Dalston had started to take control of the open spaces that they valued, the disaffection of the youth elsewhere across the City boiled over into violent protest.
I have often stated that open space and the public realm is the most visible indicator of a communities health and wellbeing. Sarah’s comments added to this the concept of ‘being valued’. Good open space and streets makes communities feel valued. The City of Norwood, Payneham & St Peters has open space and works hard to deliver quality outcomes. But more still needs to be done. Often it is the car that appears to be valued, supported by roads, car parks and drains. If we are going to build a sustainable and vibrant community, we have to change this old thinking. We need more space for people; we need to encourage people to walk and interact. We need to turn the drains into wetlands and the car parks into wonderful public spaces. Why not ask every members of the community what they really want. I doubt anyone under 18 would say that the roads need resurfacing, but they do want open space, a place to play, maybe a few more bike lanes, but most of all, a City in which they feel valued.
We can start with the green bits of our City; the parks, the trees, creeks and even the streets. We need to engage with the community and make sure that everyone is valued.
Warwick Keates - Director WaX Design