When neighbours are strangers

Tobi Sobowale_crop

Can design strengthen community spirit, asks Tobi Sobowale

I’ve lived in the same building for 25 years. Once upon a time, I knew who most of my neighbours were. Today I can’t tell who’s who. Why am I telling you this? Home is a word that has many definitions. To some it’s a place, to some it’s a person and to others it’s a feeling. I want to look at the home as a physical concept and the role that neighbours play.

I have spent a lot of time analysing the place I call home. I wrote a poem that captures my experience of walking through the in-between spaces of my estate. I have written a dissertation that looks at the territorial attitudes of residents who are engaged in criminal activity and those who are not. The inspiration for this study came from my experience of living on a council estate in London. With a rise in crime, I was curious and felt that it was necessary to look further into the matter.

Over the years, my concerns have grown for my safety in the space I call home. From the living spaces that exist behind the constraints of my front door to the boundaries that exist beyond. The communal spaces – the landing that I share with three of my neighbours, the staircase and the lifts. To the green outdoor areas which, while sounding promising, are mostly uninspiring stretches of grass. The consideration that these spaces are also part of what I call “home” leads on to the question, “So why is community important?” Oscar Newman – architect and theorist – with his concept of defensible space explained the beneficial characteristics of a community in reducing criminal activity.

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