Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Community meeting - not bad

Really interesting community meeting last night (I blogged previously about the pre-publicity) lots of positive things to say about what could have been a total dog's breakfast. Well organised, sincere and (despite the leaflet) most people in the room did not think that the apocalypse had come early.

There were over fifty people in attendance, and when you think of the fact this was a meeting called on just a few specific streets in the area that's a very impressive turnout. The police called it "significant" although were reluctant to reveal how many other such meetings had been called in recent months, which immediately made me interested about what on earth he might be hiding.

What was clear was there had been a real spate of low level crime and annoyances in a specific part of our area. A part that appears to be a bit of a nexus of meeting points for various 'late night' routes across town. Very unpleasant and intimidating for those involved and also almost completely invisible to those living just one or two streets away.

An interesting (to me) aspect of many of these issues revolves around the fact that we're living on terraced streets that were built well before cars, recycling bins and the hundreds of chained up bicycles, which creates issues that never existed before - and certainly pavements tightly hedged in by parked cars and littered with boxes full of glass bottles does present the opportunities for the annoyed drunk on his way home from the grotty pub that may not always be of an entirely community spirited nature. Some of these issues we can do little about, but some perhaps we can try to address.

Personally, although I had misgivings, I was determined to listen to the actual experiences of those in the meeting, after all this was the first time I'd met a good deal of my neighbours and I'm not going to start our relationship by saying I don't care your wing mirror has been smashed off. Even when I don't. Although I do. A bit.

Contributions were consistently focused on what the community could do for itself and ranged from possibly rather unrealistic solutions involving webcams, everyone being issued with whistles and mobbing a horrible little pub that lurks not far from here. What I liked about these contributions, even when I disagreed with them, or thought they were impractical, was that they focused on how *we* could do something to improve *our* neighbourhood rather than calling on the council for more police, ASBOs or CCTV.

There were other concerns raised about speed limits (and the kids round here do seem oblivious sometimes of the dangers of being squashed by cars), the need to liaise with a local youth project and notifying the council when things need repairing. Pretty difficult to disagree with any of that really.

The meeting was definitely helped along by the fact there were some excellent contributions that specifically focused on the idea of building community and the positive alternatives rather than focusing on negative, divisive and possibly ineffective solutions. One woman made an excellent contribution about the leaflet, describing it as the Daily Mail coming through her door and although she was heckled a bit her point was actually that the meeting was much better in tone that the propaganda.

One of the interesting things about the contributions of the police and the council was the, not so unclear, undercurrent of "we aren't going to give you anything." The cops told us that there had been 24 crimes and 31 reported incidents in the area since Jan 1 2006 (which even I could see was massive under reporting, even for a safe area like this one), and the council guy excitedly reported that they had made six, count them six, arrests of graffiti artists in Cambridge.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it ANARCHISM!

There's going to be an ongoing momentum to build on the sense of community that's come out of the meeting, which is very positive and may include a street party, and it's also a good lesson to go into these things with an open mind - but I must say without the very positive contributions made by some of the audience members this meeting could have ended up launching some creepy neighbourhood watch committee or pseudo-vigilante group intent on victimising youths and the like.

Just goes to show - good people can make the world a better place.

No comments: