Neighbourhood actions regarding people AND places

One of the pointers I was given early on in designing my project by an academic kind enough to give me some time was that I needed to decide whether I was interested in the social aspects of a suburb or the built environment. Of course, I do not think she believes the world is that simple and as a human geographer her own work cuts across theories of places and people. However, her advice helped me cut some topics out of my proposal which seemed very useful at the time.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and you will find me sitting in on a meeting where people were trying to plan a ‘social inclusion’ event. The group was talking about creative projects and I chimed in with ‘mapping is very trendy’. I do not think they needed the event to be ‘trendy’ (and I chose that word to make my interjection seem less serious), but I think they liked the idea of mapping and using physical places. Very quickly there were a lot of very practical concerns that were raised and discussed. Feeling a bit guilty over having redirected the group, I asked how they intended to get from this very complicated activity to ‘social inclusion’. My response came from a few of the people there; working towards social inclusion is not done through talking about social inclusion.

There was no place/person binary going on here for the people dealing with realities of people and places. I, the person trained in a discipline which has gotten all excited about the rediscovery of ‘place’ and ’emplacement’ in recent years, failed to realise that the rest of the world’s population has not needed to rediscover place because they never stopped living in, and working with, places.

I feel like this example should help me to think about how objections against certain developments may have more to do with my project. Of course any sort of mobilising or group action and opportunities for people to meet are of great interest to me and hold significance for my project. However, I feel to only look at the form of the action (objecting to a development) and to neglect the content (the grounds on which they decide to object, and the evidence put forward in objections) is to miss something rather important.

This is not a new thing to try to explore. There is research which looks at different interpretations of neighbourhood character (do a Google Scholar search for various articles by Dovey, Woodcock and Wood, but I particularly like one about the cheese-grater and ‘edgy’ Fitzroy). Batten’s (1994) thesis on the Bayside Project looks at ‘discourses of legitimation’ and how different people objected (and the lower status attached to the form letter used by largely working class residents).

However, in line with the decisions I made early on in my project, I am most interested if the people who might move in following developments or expectations of the impact of the development on social contact in a suburb feature in decisions made around objecting. Unfortunately for me this is probably one of the most sensitive things to try to discuss in regards to contemporary cases.

Why do interesting topics cause offence?

I guess it is just a matter of being clearer in my own mind what I want to explore, and why. If I want to talk about the social side of a suburb eventually I am going to have to talk about people. If I try to talk around it I now know the people I am spending time with are clued in enough to catch me out.



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