The Pillar Street Essays 1

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.

Worthing drainSo look at the things local residents write about community issues and you can understand a lot. Like the letter one resident posted to every house in Pillar Street.

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.


14 thoughts on “The Pillar Street Essays 1

  1. I have finally got around to reading this blog. As expected, it is an intelligently written sociological account of real life. I also read with interest the link to the work of Jane Jacobs, it was very informative. Thank you.

  2. You sound like a bloody wanker. If I took a shot every time you called yourself a (pretentious) social artist, I’d be pissed off my face.

  3. You should be ashamed for writing such tripe, about what was a great event. Great job ruining a great thing for everyone.

    1. Um… I think you should try reading the *actual words*. The event was cancelled by somebody who was upset by the children from three families playing outside (which was the whole point of Playing Out). Me writing about it has nothing to do with the event being cancelled. I wouldn’t be writing about it being cancelled unless it was cancelled already, would I? Do keep up.

  4. Playing in the ACTUAL STREET (not just “outside”) and encouraged to run wild by you, you mean, just to make a point
    . Cancelled because you encouraged dangerous behavior and endangered all the children, but mostly your own. No choice but to cancel it, before someone gets badly hurt. It’s a shame.

    1. You’re making some fairly serious accusations there, Jackie. So I’ll address them.

      Firstly, I haven’t encouraged anybody to ‘run wild’. Parents are free to make their own decisions about how to bring up their children, and in this street – three families have decided that part of that should be scootering and cycling in the street. That’s perfectly legal – we’ve checked. And it’s good for children and the community – I’ve read lots of work on street play and community building.

      My children have never been endangered while playing outside, They know the rules, have been taught to cross roads safely from a young age, and are always supervised by one of the family.

      The only time they’ve been even mildly in danger was when one neighbour shouted at them, at other children, and even at a child who was just passing through the street. He chased them all off the street, and shouted death threats on the pavement. That’s ‘dangerous behaviour’.

    1. Thank you for yet another thoughtful, considered comment. I hope your cafe, Hector’s Shed in Shoreham, is still going well.

  5. I’m not going to pretend to be anonymous. I think you’ll find it’s people who don’t know you boost your overinflated ego and those who do know you think you’re a wanker. I would say the same to your face.

    1. You never were anonymous, Lucy, pretending or otherwise. You gave your name and your email address.

  6. I’ve read this post and the comments a couple of times and remain confused. Are those making negative comments complaining because something Dan did or said led to the cancellation of an event organised by fellow residents?

    1. I think they’re blaming me for causing the event to be cancelled, by writing about the event being cancelled. Which rather misses the point that the event was already cancelled! It’s a funny old world, isn’t it?

  7. I’m shocked by the attitude here to be honest.

    Quite apart form whether the event was cancelled or not and whether it’s Dan’s fault or not, in my opinion, the reclaiming of our streets for use by our children to create a safe, local environment to play in is a Good Cause. There is no reason why, in law or otherwise, the motor car should have a monopoly on the street. I would contend that the only reason people think otherwise is thet they have been conditioned by society into what they perceive as the “norm”.

    Playing in the street can be done safely with a little respect from all for all. In our street, the children play in the road all of the time. Of course, our road does not have pavements but the fact remains that children ride bicycles, scooters, rolerskate and even have water fights and it’s accepted by all. There has been very little, if any, tension caused by this.

    If some parents are not happy with this for their children then that is up to them but in the spirit of freedom, they should not tell others what is right for ther children. Our children’s attitudes develop to reflect their parents. Even if you don’t like Dan, why use such language online rather than making a reasoned argument? If your children posted such comments, would you be happy with that? What about if they read your comments, as it is quite possible that they could, would you be happy with that either? Disagreement is fine, indeed it’s a healthy part of society but can we all be civil about it, please?

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