Meanwhile, back on Planet Council (see Lidl post), not content with concreting over the place at every turn, our councillors – bless ’em all – have new plans for dystopia, in the form of CCTV cameras in town. Thanks to a ten grand grant (or whatever these things are termed) from Allerdale council, which is clearly burning a hole in their collective pockets.
This cash boost, we are told, will add to the five grand they didn’t spend last year, giving them a neat £15,000 to spend now.
(Hang on a minute… five grand they DIDN’T spend! Wasn’t it only last month they couldn’t afford to consider a neighbourhood plan due to lack of pennies (same Lidl post)? Or was that bit in a different piggy bank?)
Whatever. As well as video surveillance, other options for this cash include a path to the brewery from the bridge at Market Place, and planters in a couple of locations.
But Councillor David Malloy said they had to get their priorities right.
‘Which is more important – crime prevention or looking at pretty flowers?’
I suspect ‘pretty flowers’ feature some way down Councillor Malloy’s personal priority ladder.
And he’s wrong. So very wrong.
It’s not that crime prevention isn’t important. Of course it is. But there’s so much more to flowers than a pretty face. And I’ll wager they’re a good deal cheaper and easier to maintain and monitor than a suite of video cameras.
In 2008, at Kansas State University, Seong-Hyun Park and Richard Mattson conducted a piece of research into the benefits of plants and flowers in the hospital environment. In a randomised trial, they concluded that patients who shared a hospital room with plants and flowers needed fewer analgesics, had more positive physiological responses, and lower rates of pain and fatigue. Most importantly, these patients also felt more positive about their whole hospital experience.
Scandinavian research, in 2004, concluded that a group of undergraduates were more creative and their mood better when there were indoor plants in the classroom than when not.
And in 2013, researchers in Michigan, looking into the benefits of ‘urban greenery’, found that ‘the balance of evidence indicates conclusively that knowing and experiencing nature makes us generally happier, healthier people’.
Why else would architects, planners and developers spend so much time, energy and money on ensuring their new developments have ‘green spaces’ and gardens. It’s because they know these things appeal to their potential buyers considerably more than acres of concrete and tarmac.
And who hasn’t taken a bunch of flowers to a pal, recovering from heartache or sickness, simply to cheer them up? Or seized on a glorious bunch of daffs to light the way to a still-distant summer?
Looking at plants and flowers makes us happier and healthier. And, given the general mood of the moment, post-referendum, and the appalling vitriol flying around in all directions, I reckon that’s worth thinking about.
As for CCTV, a number of studies have concluded that far from making people feel safer, cameras in our public spaces actually increase public anxiety.
As long ago as 1999, Professor James Ditton, of the Scottish Centre for Criminology, argued that since cameras had been installed in Glasgow, five years previously, crime had actually fallen more sharply elsewhere than it had under their unremitting gaze.
But CCTV also displaces crime, sending it somewhere else. Not unlike the Cockermouth flood defences, which kept safe the bits they were designed to keep safe, but very effectively channelled that wave of water into other bits which had never before flooded. It’s called the halo effect.
I grant you, camera footage is frequently cited in press reports as the clinching factor in a prosecution – and I doubt there’s a TV cop show written that doesn’t include some poor junior wading through hours of CCTV footage, before clinching the case with one vital frame, effectively saving their dithering boss’s backside moments before the titles. But real life, it seems, tells a different story.
A study in January 2013, looking at ‘the international literature on CCTV’, questioned how video surveillance has become so widespread, ‘while its effects in terms of crime prevention and/or law enforcement and community reassurance are not demonstrated’.
To be fair to councillors, the desire for CCTV may be rooted in concerns about the ever-diminishing police presence on our streets. That and the oft-cited difficulties getting through to 101. But I also wonder whether simply installing cameras will hasten the downward spiral: more cameras, less need for uniformed officers.
The consensus of research seems to be that cameras do act as a modest deterrent to ‘car park’ crime and anti-social behaviour. But what they also do is cause more crime to be reported. Back full circle, then, to the 101 problem.
Doubtless, our councillors will do what they feel they must do. But if we really must have cameras watching our every move, can we at least be caught smelling the begonias?
Baby boomers and wrinklies
If social media is to be believed (and it’s generally useful to have a large pinch of salt handy when engaged thus), the referendum has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that ‘old people’ – baby boomers in particular – now ‘hate the young’. Young people, in turn, very much resent that. The inference being that this state of affairs is something new. Oh come on.
Wasn’t it the Woodstock generation (speaking of Flower Power) – those same baby boomers – who entreated us, through the late-1960s and early-1970s, amongst other things, not to ‘trust anyone over 30’?
Good to know, when the world is apparently falling about our ears, that some things haven’t changed.