Caring about what helps create your quality of life.
This is to follow-on from a previous entry on this site, ‘What’s A Good Building?’. What do you think of your surroundings, and do your views matter?
I think a decent shorthand for what I’m talking about is our urban context. And I have to say that when I found myself looking at the buildings and everything else that make up Caversham and Emmer Green I found a lot of it, well, a bit meh. Yes, some of it provokes stronger responses, positive or negative. But I found a lot of it is just neither here nor there.
As I touched upon in the ‘What’s A Good Building?’ entry, why I judge my local urban environment in that way is a complicated thing. (And the same is true for any judgements you make.) There are any number of factors actually or potentially at play. And I think a) that that’s fair enough, and b) unpicking them all is far beyond the scope of this website.
But accepting that that’s the case, then my next thoughts were and are along the lines of ‘so, does what we think matter?’
And my conclusion is that yes, it matters a great deal. Our surroundings – what you can think of as your context – do a lot to set our general mood, attitude and outlook. Quite simply and regardless of anything or anyone else, we’re doing ourselves no favours if we just shrug your shoulders at it all.
And in turn that set me thinking …
Improving Your Context
First up, there are the things about the immediate urban environment you can have an impact upon.
For things you aren’t able to sort out yourself, either reporting them to the Council directly or via Fix My Street:
Both are easy and free actions. And this covers all sorts of things – potholes, overflowing rubbish bins, broken street lights etc. No, inevitably, you can’t be sure everything you report will get fixed (or it’ll take yonks). And there are lots of factors involved – from Council resources to Council politics; from the prejudices of councillors to the legal constraints they’re working within. However, at the same time, if people don’t know things are broken, they can’t mend ‘em. And the one thing you can be sure about is that just moaning to yourself won’t achieve anything.
And there are also things that you and me can do to fix things ourselves. I was in Caversham the other week and spotted a couple of folks, suitably equipped, picking up litter. And they were using bags marked as Reading Adopt Your Street (RAYS).
Now, I have to be honest, when I first looked at the Council website to find out just what RAYS is about, it all felt a bit bureaucratic and heavy-handed. But I’d urge you to set aside any similar reaction you might have, take a look and see what you can do.
And if something government-related isn’t your thing, there’s also Keep Caversham Tidy (KCT), a local charity dedicated to combating litter and general improving things in our area.
Improving What You See
It occurred to me, too, that a different aspect to all this might well be to adopt a different approach to how you see your urban environment. I said in the ‘What’s A Good Building?’ entry about the eyes you see things with. Well, I found myself wondering if I can teach my eyes to notice what’s around me in a different way.
For sure, there will be different ways of approaching this, as best suits each individual. For my own part, to give me a fresh focus, I’ve been trying to take photos in Emmer Green and Caversham with these guidelines in mind:
a) photograph things made by humans;
b) look for an interesting geometric element; and
c) try to include interesting colours.
Then after a couple of initial attempts, I added:
d) try to frame things in isolation – distinct from their broader environment. (This came about simply because there’s a lot of clutter in any average urban context.)
My first attempts are on the RG4 web site:
It’s reasonable to wonder if any of the effort put in to any of things I’ve mentioned above is likely to be worthwhile. Well, ages ago I read about a study of this sort of thing and the upshot was simple: if somewhere is littered, people will add more to it. Ditto fly tipping, vandalism and similar. So, yes, getting things fixed is worthwhile. Fixing things yourself is worthwhile.
You could also argue that bothering makes sense from a purely and positively selfish perspective. Bother simply because it makes your own life better, in the short, medium and long term.