Residents of a Nottinghamshire housing estate have installed pink lights which show up teenagers’ spots in a bid to stop them gathering in the area. Says Dan Lockton, pointing out its resemblance to the Mosquito, “I don’t understand why Britain hates its young people so much. But I can see it storing up a great deal of problems for the future.”
Twenty years later, this area is still poor, with high unemployment but hope can be found at the Village of Arts and Humanities. That’s what the small art park has grown into—a tangible symbol of renewal that covers more than 120 formerly abandoned lots with murals, sculpture gardens, mosaics, flowers, community gardens, playgrounds, performance spaces, basketball courts, art studios, even a tree farm.
“The entire community seems to take part in the use of the spaces,” writes Kathleen McCarthy, who nominated the Village for Project for Public Space’s authoritative list of the world’s Great Public Spaces. “As we walked down the street, trying to find one of the parks, a man walking beside us directed us to the Park, and told us the history of it and the wonderful artist, Lily Yeh who started the park. He spoke with pride that this was a part of his community. We sat on the benches made of smashed tile and mirror, making wonderful curves and places to sit. Across from us, women sat and smiled, waved. Children ran over and asked us to hide them during a game of hide-and-seek…. I’ve never felt more welcomed in an unfamiliar place.”
In Bonn, Germany, I noticed a bookcase full of books in the public park where I run, with a young woman removing one book and returning another. These are used books that make up essentially a free voluntary lending library.
Would this cabinet last undamaged in a U.S. city one day? I doubt it. Similar things exist elsewhere — such as outdoor vending machines for DVD’s in Kyoto, Japan. Both of these indicate a certain level of mutual trust in the population and a certain level of civility; both reduce the transactions costs of daily living: easier access to books in one case, 24-hour DVD availability in the other.
Mutual trust is important in reducing transactions costs, and this aspect of culture has been viewed by economists as helping to determine some economic outcomes. (Although how different levels of trust arise has not been considered by the mostly macroeconomists who worry about this; it’s creating trust that seems to me to be the central issue.)
How many other examples like the books and the DVD’s are there in foreign countries that we don’t see at home?