Friday, 27 January 2017

From #RateMyPlace to #ShapeOurPlace: A Collaborative Enquiry

By Jacky Sutton-Adam

How often do we think about or actively, critically notice where we live?
'' I've been here for over 20 years, and the houses on my road have quadrupled in value. There are lots of tourists in the Summer. It's a nightmare getting to the train station. There are places where I feel unsafe walking at night. 80% of my work commute is over commons and green spaces – lucky me!''

Functional street furniture or urban clutter? 
These facts and opinions are like a backdrop scenery to my life in Cambridge. In the busy-ness of 21st century living, it sometimes recedes into an amorphous blur coloured by whichever emotion I happen to be feeling most strongly. The result? I sometimes experience extended 'sulks' about Cambridge and this is detrimental to my sense of well-being.

Last week's prosaically named workshop 'Place Standard Tool' could definitely do with a title makeover, but it really helped me to get a grip on what I felt and why, and to feel connected with others as we shared what we love and wish we could change about our city. I gained a sense of clarity about my opinions which was empowering.
 ''This exercise got me thinking deeply about the City I live in, and I found that as a group we interrogated each point from many angles, exploring many aspects of this diverse place. Some answers were expected, tho' many were surprising. '' - James

A yellow ribboned  street tree 
To start with, we took the 14 questions and split into 2 groups to tackle half each. The questions covered a whole range of topics from the local economy and transport, to leisure facilities and housing. It was initially tough going to simply rate Cambridge between 1 for Dreadful 7 for Brilliant: Take the question 'Are buildings and spaces well cared for? ' Clearly it depends where in Cambridge you're thinking about! In the ensuing discussion we each came to a fuller appreciation of city problems and benefits overlooked, and a deeper understanding of Cambridge from someone else's viewpoint.

We all agreed that the discussion about Cambridge was helpful and well structured, but talk, as we know, is relatively easy... action is the gritty jewel we hope will come out of our words and thoughts! So what next? Who might benefit from this kind of session? We would very much like to repeat this workshop, so if you are a member of a group that might benefit, please get in touch.

  • A neighbourhood focus group (perhaps a Residents' Association? ) to drill down to a deeper level of understanding about a particular area.
  • Temporary work placement residents and students –groups which traditionally have limited sense of ownership and lower levels of engagement over local issues – how does our city look to people who feel themselves to be outsiders? Could these kinds of detailed questions help to create the possibility of rootedness and belonging?
  • Activists and change-makers – tackling just a few questions and spending some facilitated time on coming up with actions could take this exercise from a personally enjoyable gathering to a tightly focussed initiative for community based active engagement.
  • Campaigners and protest groups – to move the conversation from anger and complaints to a clear mandate for focussed action.

A last word from James by way of conclusion: ''It felt like a fresh and stimulating way of interrogating the City we live in, with the built-in bonus of bringing together ways that we as an active group can make the place and it's inhabitants more sustainable...."

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