Each week we are asking one member from each Working Group to share what they discussed at each meeting and plan to do for the next session. Here is the final Lifetimes Working Group overview:
Primarily, the Lifetimes Group has focused on the need to create a cultural shift towards empowering people to have greater agency over where they live and the ways in which public space is organised. People felt strongly that we could advocate for this change and shift agency towards the local community. The key message from the Lifetimes group is that the mechanisms around how communities access and use public space could shift and that this change could engender and empower if done right.
An example was given by a participant whose daughter had recently be given a council house. Outside the house was an area of green space that children had been using during lockdown as outside ‘play’ area. She wanted to create a meeting place here and establish a small garden and some seating but did not know who she should contact or how to go about improving this space.
This example is a really good case in point as it raises a number of issues that could be initially concerning – who would maintain this? Would it become messy and look bad or potentially hazardous? These concerns would all be reasons to simply say no to this person and stop her progressing with her idea. However given some agency the optimistic alternative is that this individual makes a great job of this area, it becomes a lovely green space for the community to use and take shared ownership.
The question posed by the Lifetimes group was around risk and risk averse culture that imposes one rule of ‘no’ unilaterally because, quite frankly it is much easier – not a criticism but a fact. Working with people, collectively is hard and it raises the potential for conflict and indeed failure etc. However given the tools to work collectively taking ownership over this small space and using it to plant trees for example and making it a ‘public area’ could be seen as a huge ‘win’ for the community. People would be proud of their achievement and this area becomes symbolic of the fact that people can work collectively and can be responsible for public areas that they use.
One of the ‘Hows’ we therefore identified was how the WCC currently manage these small pockets of public space and how the potential benefit for greater community agency can be balanced against risk and potential failure. This shift is a cultural one, it is a shift that requires a change in centralised thinking but also a greater sense of shared responsibility and agency from the community itself.
A positive example of this is the ‘Barlow Road Orchard’
in Levenshulme, Manchester, where a small area of land used for fly tipping has been turned into a community orchard with a picnic bench. The project was initiated by an individual resident and supported by a local shop and a local charity. This ‘good news’ story bought a positive angle to an otherwise troubled spot, which has resulted in broad support from the local community.
Some of the questions raised by the Lifetimes group are about cultural shifts in how public space is organised, how local communities can be supported and what a tool kit for this support could look like?
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