And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something. Make it a word and a blow.
Romeo & Juliet, Act III Scene I
Words are interesting, with power and meaning, and how we use them as social artists makes a big difference to our work. Using Plain English, just one word where ten would do, helps. Coupling words with actions is even better. That’s why hashtags are so good. Short, simple, and usually related to an action.
It’s about the ‘problem’ of children playing out in the street after school, ‘which has made many residents unhappy’. Now – you could easily read the letter and think there’s an important issue here. Danger, even! But don’t we all believe that children should be playing out in the street? Hasn’t the playing out actually made many other residents happy? An older citizen I met at the weekend, said she loved seeing children playing on her street. Of course, happy people tend not to write letters and stuff them through letterboxes.
The increased play is the result of the street getting younger, as more families move in. It’s part of a natural urban cycle.
Children have as much right to the pavement and the road as everybody else. And if they’re out, we should watch out for each other’s children, pick them up when they scrape a knee, be the ‘eyes upon the street’ that Jane Jacobs talks about. There’s nothing as safe as a busy street where children are playing, parents are watching, and people are passing through. Streets need diversity, and life, and scraped knees, and noise.
To understand what’s really going on, unpick what people write. In the letter stuffed through Pillar Street letterboxes, there are about 300 words. 18 sentences. Of which, 10 are about the person writing the letter – ‘I am a…’, ‘I arranged the…’, ‘my own children’, ‘I thank you all’ and so on. Is it really about the neighbourhood, about Pillar Street, or just about one person who’s struggling with change?
The letter has inspired me, as a social artist and a community organiser, to write The Pillar Street Essays, which will look at some of the issues covered in this first post in more detail. The aim of writing will be to help other social artists and community organisers to do what brings benefit to the most people, even if it is momentarily disruptive, and not to give up because the loudest voices demand things stay as they always have been.
The Pillar Street Essays are inspired by living in one road in Worthing for three years, and look at how the social artist and the community organiser can work in a small neighbourhood. There is no Pillar Street on the map of Worthing, but this is a real place, and these are real people. Pillar Street is a short, one way road on the edge of the town centre. It’s next to the main park in town, and near to the hospital, with a community centre in the next street. The housing is probably late Victorian, terraced on one side with larger, detached properties (some converted into flats) on the other. Some people have lived here for many years, but in the last few years more young families have moved in, attracted by lower house prices than in nearby Brighton.